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Poetry and Medicine
November 9, 2011

The Nursing Home

Author Affiliations

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

Author Affiliation: University of Maryland, College Park.

JAMA. 2011;306(18):1959. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1532

When I walked past the door she yelled,
“Hey you! Come in here and tell me the time!”
She was alone in the room; her skin so pale.
There had been no son in her life to care for her.
I turned in and walked past the metal bed. It was Sunday.
Looking out the window there was a tree with no leaves.
“2:30 in the afternoon,” I said quietly. She tried to sit up but failed.
“Come over here and sit down!” I jumped; nervous.
Pulling a chair away from the wall, I dragged it across the linoleum.
The noise grated on our ears. She screamed with no teeth,
“Do you know how to read?!” I nodded yes. It was late November.
“Here, read this! I want to hear a voice! The nurses don't talk!”
I read three chapters of Pride and Prejudice to her. I had no idea who she was.
She stared at me the entire 30 minutes.
I noticed a clock with huge numbers on the wall.
She didn't blink. I didn't hear a single breath. Her hair was so sparse.
Her eyes were heavily rimmed in red from crying before I came in.
“I’m sorry but I have to leave now,” I stuttered almost silently. Anxious.
“Touch my hand before you go!” I asked, why? She just closed her eyes
in aggravation at my insensitivity. I grabbed her cold hand and held it briefly.
She smiled. She was very frail. The nurse said no one ever came to see her.