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Poetry and Medicine
April 1, 1998

On Call

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(13):976E. doi:10.1001/jama.279.13.976

4 AM. I make my final check.
The ward stirs in its restless, shallow sleep.
The nurses log the details of their watch—
chart fevers, fathom I's & O's and plot
tomorrow's course. I shuffle past and swab
the bloody deck with my ill-fitting scrubs.
A lighthouse on the shore of deep fatigue,
the on-call room calls. Just one more stop.
The ER's empty. Yes! Just a few cops
blandishing the nightshift nurses with
morning coffee, donuts. They swagger, flirt.
The next admission's Ahab's anyway.
Tennyson elbows in with a bald day
and blank street or is it a vice versa
sailor's warning warning almost morning
(at 4:05 the whole world loves to clang).
I mumble a final intern's ahoy avast,
climb my seventh floor heaven's mizzenmast
to a crow's nest between child psych and EEG
and fall into a hammock woven by
the twin sirens of ambulance and sleep.
(4:15 AM. Beep beep. Beep beep.)