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November 7, 1990

'Old Man in a VA Hospital': Shock and Dismay-Reply

Author Affiliations

Houston, Tex

Houston, Tex

JAMA. 1990;264(17):2214. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450170062023

In Reply.—  Iwas shocked and dismayed by the misinterpretations given to my poem, "Old Man in a VA Hospital," by Dr Jacobs, Mr Sanford, and Ms Zimmer-man. The poem's intent was to evoke the images and mood in a particular time and place. I walked down the dimly lighted, gray-green corridor of a VA hospital. I smelled a musky, urinelike odor. Two laughing veterans raced by me in wheelchairs. An old man shuffled out of a rehabilitation center. A woman I took to be a nurse smiled woodenly at him until he turned away. Later that day, I had a free hour. In my mind were the images I have described. I wove them together to convey my observations, impressions, and the mood they created within me. That mood was a mixture of sadness and annoyance—sadness for the suffering and decay of all things human, annoyance at the seeming