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Poetry and Medicine
October 10, 2012

Blood on My Hands

Author Affiliations

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

Author Affiliation: Medical Faculty Associates, George Washington University, Washington, DC (apossner@mfa.gwu.edu).

JAMA. 2012;308(14):1411. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.8333

In this business
blood on the hands
as long as they're gloved
isn't a bad thing.
In fact, it's expected—
part of the job.
I made a mistake.
I let his unassisted breathing
compensate for his blood
for far too long. Now I’m
trying to compensate
for my failure with
ventilator, pressors, a hasty
central line in a patient
Trendelenburg—slipping away,
a course I can't reverse.
Then a single drop of blood
on the mesh of my right sneaker.
I see it while it's still red.
For weeks I'll take note
each time I look down
until it fades among other
less incriminating stains.
I don't change shoes or
try to wash them.
I wouldn't dare.