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Poetry and Medicine
April 8, 1998

Heart Patients I Once Knew

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(14):1126B. doi:10.1001/jama.279.14.1126

I remember a man who wore a toupee,
flashy clothes and gold jewelry—
He died screaming with his eyes shut
and legs kicking at some invisible intruder.
I remember a ninety-year-old grandmother
who sat up in front of her daughters,
took a deep breath for me as I listened
to her lungs, and left us without a sound.
I remember a farmer who looked at me
with a puzzled face as pain crushed him
like an elephant's foot and he stared
beyond me to someone or something unseen.
I remember the blue-eyed father
of a golf buddy of mine, found pulseless
in his bed and hauled to where I waited,
knowing nothing would make him warm again.
Wives and children sat in plastic chairs,
stunned and blank as darkened lamps.
Such memories are like paste on my fingers.
There are days when they swarm up
and stick like dead flies—days that begin
to fall around me like scattered cards.
Voices and sounds disappear, leaving behind
the smallest of sounds, something like a sob.