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Poetry and Medicine
August 6, 2019

Quad Rooms at the VA

Author Affiliations
  • 1Oregon Health and Science University, Portland
JAMA. 2019;322(5):471. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.4471

89- and 92-year-old males
both with past medical histories
sit in silence across from one another
in a room with four beds.

Pale hairless shins dangle above the cold bare floor
Bright yellow socks, two sizes too big, bunch around ankles
And a faded blue hospital dress hangs off a thin, leathery shoulder.

With deep sighs, they kindly indulge my questions
About bowel movements, bladder incontinence
And the three words I asked them to remember five minutes ago
As if they needed further reminder
Of why they ended up here in the first place.

At night, I imagine that these men come alive
Like dolls in childhood fairytales,
They are dashing naval officers and brave pilots
They tell each other hero stories
And one up each other with dirty jokes.

And when one leaves
Bound for rehabilitation, followed by long-term care
I see a spark in his eyes as he bids his roommate farewell
Shoulders straighter, chin up, shirt tucked
I finger the stethoscope in my short white coat
And wonder who really did the healing.

Section Editor: Rafael Campo, MD, MA, Associate Editor.
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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Emily Dollar, MD (dollare@ohsu.edu).

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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