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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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January 2013

The Lone Nurse Lament

Ray Bingham

The supervisor called, she’s pulling Noel to Peds,
Where, she says, they’ve got really pressing needs.

And Nadia, poor girl, must float to 12 East,
To face the scourge of the adult med-surg beast.

Though the administrators won’t admit to a nursing shortage,
When the census hits the rapids, they attempt this portage.

So here in our quaint little Newborn ICU,
I’m left for the shift with two nurses too few.

The ward clerk’s on holiday, the housekeeper’s sick.
The supervisor’s advice? Make the best of it.

So with a babble of babies to care for alone,
I’ll empty the linens while I answer the phone.

I’ll suction one baby while I tube-feed another,
Hoping my catheters don’t get crossed in the bother.

While I mix special formula, I’ll hang TPN*,
Then gather antibiotics from the pharmacy bin,

I’ll round up the mothers for the baby bath class,
Then while I have them, teach breastfeeding en masse.

I’ll run to alarms wherever they beep,
So they won’t disturb all my little ones’ sleep.

Check all the IV sites, write notes in the » Continue Reading.

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Lost and Found

Julie Evans

When Mom died of alcohol poisoning on her sixtieth birthday, I was seventeen and then I didn’t have a mom anymore. 

My heart was crushed, but there was no time to grieve, because my dad was dying. A man in his late fifties, he’d battled emphysema, a brain aneurysm, colon cancer and then bone-marrow cancer. 

Over the following months, and after starting my first year at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, I’d pace the halls of St. Mary’s Hospital as Dad met with the doctors or had his lungs suctioned out. With no health insurance, and no hope of improvement, he was eventually moved to a nursing home. He died a few weeks later, when I’d briefly stepped out of the room.

In 1973, there were no systems in place for a young girl like me–nowhere I could go to talk to somebody who could help me. Instead of feeling lonely or abandoned, I felt numb. I majored in journalism, but also worked as a nursing assistant with cancer patients at the University’s Masonic Hospital. It felt very sustaining; my parents

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Note to My Patient

Sarah Stumbar

You might be surprised to know that I’m lying here in bed still thinking of you two weeks after you’ve died.

During the month that I watched you die, I often wondered what it felt like to be you, with your deep, husky voice, rounded belly and stubborn anger. You’d once owned your own mechanic shop; now you were sitting here in a hospital bed, staring up at the medical team as we whirled in and out of your room. Staring up at me as I drew blood from your central line each morning. 

Some days, I forced myself to make the whirlwind stop. I’d sit in the chair across from your bed and ask you what you really knew about your cancer. 

You’d look at me and say, “Not this again.” 

Your cancer, originally only in your bladder, was everywhere now–in your colon and your bones and your lungs. You had fevers now, too; they kept on coming and kept getting higher, bringing with them the highest white-blood-cell counts we’d ever seen. I wanted to talk to you about your options–whether to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order, whether to go on home hospice, whether to keep

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Here’s the Thing

Martin Kohn

There are certain days
when death is just
not appropriate

When the mock orange blossoms
scent through the window
next to your sleeping son

When your wife stands naked
at the top 
of the stairs

When the day stretches inside out
and the city vibrates in doo wop
riffs and arpeggios

When the scraps of paper
each containing a random word
fall to the floor 
and assemble themselves
into the sonnet
you could never write–
even if your life depended 
on it

About the poet:

Martin Kohn is director of the medical humanities program at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Ethics, Humanities and Spiritual Care, and an associate professor of medicine at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. With Carol Donley he co-founded the Center for Literature and Medicine at Hiram College and was a co-founding editor of the Literature & Medicine series at Kent State University Press. His poetry has appeared in numerous print and electronic journals.

About the poem: 

Husband: …I just got another poem accepted for publication…uh…and you’re in it.

 Am I going to be embarrassed?

 Well, you’re naked.

Wife (thirty minutes later, having read the poem)
: You have such a good imagination…I love it…It’s

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