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Poetry and Medicine
August 20, 2003

The Fever Stones

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;290(7):860. doi:10.1001/jama.290.7.860

She is old and sits on the grey divan
touching them, the fever stones,
and reminds me of the months of colic,
the bile she ate with every dish,
the pain and sudden temperature
that brought her in the ambulance,
its forehead flashing rubies and impatience.
They are dark, bluegreen, and faceted,
the fever stones. I recall the treatment room,
this woman surrounded by a storm of care,
the thrash of sheets and anesthesia,
the surgeon's cry, We'll have to open her!
and the musty, humid smell of open belly.
They are smooth, dark, and hang on string
around her neck. The fever stones.
It is years since I discovered with my hands
the hidden secret hot within her body,
the bladder stretched and swelling by her ribs.
I cut, then watched them tumble out
like marbles bursting from an aggie sack:
dark, bluegreen. The fever stones.
And so I earned another patient.
Today, leaning on the edge of my desk
like a friend or a lover from another life,
she sits, touching her neck with her hands,
those stones fashioned by pain and fever,
each one knotted against the rest
like pearls, which also mean infection.
I shake her hand and watch her walk away,
the necklace riding just above her collar.
The fever jewels, she calls them sometimes,
as if they were mined, or bought and paid for.
And she is right. Such things have value
just by what we endure to own them,
and are precious simply because we say so.

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