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Poetry and Medicine
August 8, 2001


Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2001;286(6):646. doi:10.1001/jama.286.6.646

for John Alexander

I do not understand your disease
but with your illness I am familiar
I can see the fork and spoon on your tray, the food covers, the parsley
The tray table with a mind of its own, more crippled than carts at the grocery store
The call button like a trilobite, burrowing under the sheets
The 45-minute wait for Tylenol
I have handled the little soap, the thin washcloth, the emesis basin, curved
I can pull the curtains back,
See the view
I can hear the IV pump beeping again, see the bruises
The doctors are balancing the weight of your chart, scanning
I know what they are thinking: sepsis vs volume vs other
They are suspicious, waiting for you to declare
Looking for a "source"
I am willing your blood pressure up, your temperature down
Across this distance
I know the ward clerk huffing and flustered by yet another set of orders
The respiratory therapist outside on break, smoking
A nurse's aide with tattoos
And one of the housekeepers, singing gospel while you sleep, praying and mopping
She knows the most about you but never sees your chart

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