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Poetry and Medicine
April 7, 2010

First Thrill

JAMA. 2010;303(13):1233. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.307

Mulago Hospital, Kampala

Once, when I was still a student, your heart leapt up to meet me
and thrilled against my palm. I’d read about this
but never guessed how it would feel like a kiss,
like a hummingbird beating against the cage of your ribs.
Rheumatic fever, 14 years old. Congestive heart failure.
You were not my only, but you were my first, and Moses
I want you to know: part of me is still standing there,
my hand on your heart like a promise
your name in my throat like a stone.
I scribbled that you were “decompensating”
—because we never say patients are dying,
because we are cowards, because
we are human, because
all of our hearts betray us.