Having spent a whole morning at talks and meetings on Patient-Centred Care, (coincidentally enough) these two poems landed in my inbox and gave me quite a lot to think about. But mostly, it’s to remember that we are all human. That’s my favourite thing about poetry – that the human condition is almost always seen in it. (my second favourite is that you can tuck a bit of it away in a corner of your heart and carry it with you always, ready to brandish in light of a dark Dementor-infested day)
My sister asked me to go out into the hall.
I went out into the hall. She asked me
to go farther, not just down the hall
but to the other side of the trauma ward
where the bank of windows faced west
and where, during the third dressing change,
I sat in the chair by the elevator and tried
to persuade myself that the setting sun
felt good on my skin, was warming me.
But really I was plotting how to cheat,
to sneak back on her side of the hospital,
not only on her side but next to her door,
not only next to but inside the door,
to be inside and with her when the nurse
drew the gray curtains, when the flowers
on the sill were trapped between window
and cloth, pressed up against the glass
like some embalmed specimen. I felt
the same crease of cool air slicing her
in half, turning over onto her stomach,
the thin gown sliding open in back,
the spine, the cleaving calves, we are
two halves. And I watched the nurse
placing white gauze in a stack, counted
the morphine drips, tried to find some sort
of rhythm in it all, some sort of pattern,
the way her skin would later be, meshed
by making lengthwise nicks in succession,
stippled like the pincushion of a seamstress
who kept her needles meticulous in rows
down and across in the cushion’s flesh.
And all of this to be torn apart. Yes,
to at least hear her scream, to hold
her hand, her head even, while the nurse
again ripped the bandage off in order
to keep the wound fresh, keep it fertile
for grafting. But she had asked me
to go out into the hall. I sat in the chair
on the west side of the building and
pretended to find patience in warmth
while she screamed over there, screamed
because there was nothing left to try,
no anodyne that would be strong enough.
And she asked me to go into the hall.
And she screamed because it was wrong
and she wouldn’t say that it was wrong
and she wouldn’t let me see so that I
might say that it was wrong. I sat there
with only my careless imagination, a mirror
unable to reflect from such a distance
without distorting, a lung inhaling smoke,
that it may be closer to numbness and pain.
I ask her what I can do for her today.
She has a history of seizures and maybe schizophrenia.
She knows some things about me and my daughter
and has offered advice on how to deal with epilepsy
via eating more celery and taking in vitamins.
She sent money to Texas, she was prayed for,
and her seizures healed.
“I wasn’t born this way,” she says and
again loudly, “I wasn’t born this way.” She, unlike
almost everyone, looks you in the eye like
we’re taught to do. “I have one pupil bigger
than the other. It makes me look retarded.
I don’t like the way it makes me look.”
I confirm the anomaly and never have noticed this
although I’ve shined the light in her eyes
every time I’ve seen her which has been every
four months over eight years. She’s been fired by her
neurologists because she won’t do what they tell
her to do. She takes her medicines ad lib and
not on days when she feels an entire
side of her body go numb. She says, “God
wouldn’t create anything imperfect. I wasn’t born
this way.” Today I feel argumentative and besides
what will she do? “God has nothing to do with this.
You have a seizure disorder. Epilepsy. Your eyes aren’t
noticed by anyone. The tingling you feel is seizures.
The numbness you feel is seizures. You used to be nice.
When did you become mean like this?”
She points at me and says, “I feel sorry for
you. You don’t understand that people
are born perfect.” I look at her asymmetric eyes
and her photocopied and annotated articles on
zinc and vitamin e and open her chart and
fumble through it and then listen to her heart
just over her belt and wonder who married her
because someone did. Someone that died,
she tells me, thinking she was perfect.
Someone did die for you, thinking that you were (and you still are, to Him) perfect
p.s: 100000 points if you caught that e.e cummings reference