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Poetry and Medicine
August 9, 2000

House Calls

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2000;284(6):668. doi:10.1001/jama.284.6.668

After they took her lung out for cancer,
the progress was quiet. First, she resigned
as queen of the most expensive club
on the island. Then she ensconced herself
in the room that was once her father's
sancta sanctorum. From his overstuffed chair
she wheedled the nurses into mixing
an endless succession of martinis.
She never left the house except to see
the eye doctor, and never ate a bite
without complaint. The fiction they picked
to explain her eccentricity
was fear of cancer, but it was more like
a day without drink that frightened her.
When I inquired about the vitamins,
she didn't need them. When I took a look
at her throat, her coquetry came back—
she asked if I could sniff her little drink.
When I listened to the raucous moisture
in her chest, she told me that her doctor—
her real doctor—was promoted to professor
and left me like you all do.
When she didn't die that first year, her brother
flew in to check my credentials.
He was a lint-free man if I ever met one,
silver-haired and chairman of the board,
but I spoke too softly to charm him
and my car was embarrassing.
The last straw was me visiting her house—
I must be angling for a piece
of her will, or at least a better job.
When he returned to St Thomas,
I was sent back to the minors.
So much for my money-practice
that had never amounted to much—
she didn't carry a stitch
of insurance and wasn't the type
to bother with details like paying the help.