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Poetry and Medicine
July 23 2008

After Surgery: The Pain Clock

JAMA. 2008;300(4):370. doi:10.1001/jama.300.4.370

for Bradley Harris, MD

Recreates time.
Breguet could not have designed
an instrument more finely tuned
than this, its movements housed deep
in the bones and ligatures of the knee.
(The casing, alas, is less elegant
by far than the sumac-dyed, tanned
goat-hide purses, hand-stitched, that sheathed his engine-turned
pieces of silver and gold.) But the saw-teeth
of each gear are just as greedy to engage,
to chew—now fast, now slow—through
every rough-edged hour.
And once the hammer-
chime strikes, there is no stifling
its Horloge du Palais clang,
though, under hydrocodone's double dose,
the clamor sometimes blurs.
Admire these additional features.
Perpétuelle, the timepiece sets and winds
itself. Montre à tact: a blind man's watch,
constructed to be read by touch,
allowing us to scan the face of discomfort
hidden in all the black flannel pockets
of night. Because a rachet key prevents its
backward winding, the minutes will only
advance. Even as we curse this percussive
tick, that tock, we move toward “Time heals.”
Or, toward some other truth the maker
has declined to describe.