ICU

Poetry Submission

ICU

She lies silent
dwarfed by the tubes
and lines
strangely swollen
and stiff

Her fingers feel
cool
to the touch
as if they were
made of wax

The respirator
hisses and clicks
forcing air
into her sodden lungs

We are
plodding through
the tasks
of the morning
reciting lists
and numbers

grave percentages
Ransom’s Criteria
blood gases
Calcium
Hematocrit

It all seems
so inappropriately
civilized
I want
to scream

This is not
“an interesting case”
This is Mattie,
who
hugged me
just a week ago
at her annual exam

I lean over
And whisper
“Hang in there
Mattie,
It’s me..
I see you”

by: MaryBeth Salama, MD

Bits Of Ourselves

Narrative Submission

Bits of Ourselves

There are many ways to begin a discussion about dying. A few of my favorites, however, include: “What do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino?” “Why was six afraid of seven?” “A horse walks into a bar…”

I don’t remember his name. I don’t remember the details of his terminal illness. But now, two years later, I remember his face like it was yesterday.  I remember his room in the hospital. I remember the playful glint in his eye when the elderly veteran made clear that any doctor entering his room was required to offer up a joke-of-the-day before any medical discussion could be had. Day after day my palliative care team stood just outside of his room asking “Who has a joke? Does anybody have a joke? How about this joke? Why can I never remember jokes?!” Soon enough we started assigning it the night before: “You, look up the pathology reports on Mr. X’s tumor. You, talk to general surgery about if Mr. Y is a candidate for surgical excision. You, find a really funny new joke for Mr. Z for tomorrow morning.” Each day dealing with life, with death… and with the quest for one damn good joke.

What compelled him to insist on this rule? Was this the spirit with which he had lived his life? An attempt to bring some joy to a difficult reality? A reminder of his humanity? A gift to those of us treating him? A bit of many things?

After leaving the hospital, I doubt he remembered having ever met me. At the time of his death, he most certainly would never have imagined that one random doctor amongst a sea of treating doctors would be thinking about him two years later. And yet he is not an infrequent guest-star in my mind. Be it a sad moment in which I am contemplating a painful case, or a stressed moment before I step into a big exam: Pop— that grin on his face and that glint in his eyes pop into my mind, egging for a joke.   A lingering gift that can’t help but bring a much needed grin to my own face.

The vast majority of this man I will have never known. And yet this most tiny piece of himself that I interacted with seems to have stuck. It rides with me still. Perhaps that is how it is with life: constantly putting tiny pieces of ourselves out in the world, so many floating off into the wind, never knowing where and with whom one may stick. Little bits of ourselves, hitch-hiking onto the souls of others, walking the earth long after we stop.

 

By:  Danielle Chammas MD (@ChammasDani)

“Ode To A Dying Friend”

Poetry Submission

     I wrote this poem to my forty-year-old friend, Bahige Nuhaily, who came to me, dying of lung cancer. After spending time with him, I came to realize that he was more comfortable facing his death than I was.
     The contrast between my inconsolable grief and his serene acceptance, my anger at life’s injustice and his smiling indifference, inspired this poem.
     His heroic pathos, that even death can be rendered beautiful by change of attitude, has amended my perception of mortality.

Ode To A Dying Friend

And when we are together, you and I
In the silent room
And it is time to speak
My hesitating phrases cannot find the exit
Bounce from cheek to cheek
Collapse exhausted, in my throat they lie
So utterless and dead.

I slowly sit upon your bed
Squeeze your hand and stroke your head
And let the clumsy silence cry:
Hello my friend; I came to say good-bye
And everything is said.

Why do I fear your weary, setting eyes
Upon my pounding chest tattoo goodbyes?
And angry visions pace my mind, I hear
Their drumming hoofs approaching and I rise.

These tired processes of life must come to rest
And it is time to go
Time to recollect the scattered years
Of memories and woe
Time to know that it is all the same
An ancient, ceremonial game
A melancholy setting to the west
And you become a name
When they will fold your arms upon your chest.

And so we part
I, wondering is it wine or blood
That beats within your heart?
For you lie deep in peaceful sleep
Content, resigned
While angry visions pace my mind
So I rebel, I hate, deny
Yet, in this cold and lonesome place
So fearless and alone you lie
And I remain behind to face
The separation and the pain
The fear that I would die again
In yet another cold and lonesome place.

Hanna Saadah