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Poetry and Medicine
June 7, 2000

Sleep's Siren Calls

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(21):2764. doi:10.1001/jama.283.21.2764

Three hours of sleep are not enough to forget the world.
As a 4 AM darkness pants damply against the window,
and the radiator launches dull clangs through searing hisses,
my beeper's sharp sounds pierce splayed-out senses.
I'd been dreaming hopefully before this offensive—
the mind's first reflex is to question everything.
Seeing bedside phantoms where earlier I piled
clothes on 3x5 cards and clipboard, I feverishly pray
Let these swarming mental vapors rise
like fog to the ceiling where I turn my eyes
to escape the shock of more surprise.
Nearly awake, I still question everything.
Like a wayward chutist in a web of branches,
I tussle to make my arms and legs move.
Panic scrambles over powerless nerves
as I count the call nights left to endure
and wonder how other doctors shake their stupor—
do they also question everything?
Serious and spirited talks with patients
(and 5 AM conversations with punchy colleagues)
are dragged back to that last hour in my on-call suite,
pulled head-down under blanket and sheet
to mingle with dreams that visit, nurture and recede
before the marvel that I questioned anything.