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Poetry and Medicine
March 15, 2006

Charity Hospital, New Orleans

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2006;295(11):1224. doi:10.1001/jama.295.11.1224


Generations climbed her stone steps,
disappeared for years inside gray walls,
learned to live thirty-six-hour days
and then to sleep without dreams.
We passed through admit rooms,
studied gunshot wounds and abdominal pain,
absorbed impermanence and accepted death.
We walked the deep night wards,
silent save for an occasional moan,
listened for the absence of breath.
We emerged changed—
not more compassionate perhaps,
but calmer, sadder, more resigned.
From those years much was lost,
lives and stories forever gone.
Our hands remember though
how to wield a knife,
separate good tissue from bad,
preserve vessel and nerve
and something more—
how to touch a dying patient
whisper a wordless benediction
and receive a blessing in return.

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