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Poetry and Medicine
December 6, 2006

Patient Histories

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2006;296(21):2530. doi:10.1001/jama.296.21.2530

Some know what ails them inside and out.
They know where they brushed the ivy, and when,
Tracing for you around their shins
The border that morning between sock and skin.
After resenting their past doctors by name,
They ask you to spell yours, and write
The letters, as you say them, on a yellow pad.
Medication lists, xeroxed, one for you to keep.
They know exactly at what hour of the night
Their pain gave a murmur, or turned in its sleep.
But some speak of their ill health haltingly,
The first chest pressure something overheard
Across a room packed with more pressing events.
A spouse brings the mole to their attention.
When they first slurred their words is a matter of hearsay;
They have no dates for you, much less a time of day.
And they are always the ones who get
The worst news, whose malignancies have trekked
To lung and liver in the sunshine of benign neglect,
The men whose backaches prove bone mets, the women
Who felt the lump but figured it would go away.

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