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Poetry and Medicine
January 17, 2001

Fourth Night on Call at the Rape Crisis Center

JAMA. 2001;285(3):264. doi:10.1001/jama.285.3.264

When the phone rings, it startles itself.
I nearly swallow my tongue.
The office shrinks to the size of my ear.
I hear Spartanburg Medical and recall
a police photo in the training manual—
the woman with stitches above her eyes
like illegible script. I grab
the things I am to remember: a handful
of quarters, the donated sweatshirt,
pink jogging pants, sneakers.
On the short drive,
I pass the women's college of six hundred
where I always feel safe,
two security guards in tiny booths
with serious patches on their shoulders.
And the students, my roommates,
curled up in the dorms, with stacks
of textbooks and novels at their bedsides—
passages highlighted, pages creased.
Alarms will nudge them into morning.
The emergency room is blunt—
pale men and women lean waiting.
An officer scrutinizes the door to her room.
The doctor leaves scribbling notes.
A nurse bags evidence. The woman,
facing the wall, grips an article
of clothing she's managed to keep—
a light blue sock. Her hair is black like mine.
I am uninvited. I tell her my name. The nurse
is saying she needs the sock now.

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