Month: June 2008

Finding Innisfree

Lawrence Dyche

Roger looked up at me over the oxygen mask, his eyes drawn wide by the sores stretching his face. He lifted a hand for me to take.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Jen had said before I’d entered his room. “They’ve taken him off a lot of the medication. He’s very lucid, but he’s depressed and scared.” 

The previous fall, Roger and Jen had begun couples therapy with me. They were both thirty-two and had been together for ten years. Three years before they came to me, Roger had been diagnosed with leukemia. A bone-marrow transplant had left him cancer-free, but his prognosis was guarded. He and Jen argued frequently, his desire for independence clashing with her insistence on managing his care. 

When they first visited my office, Roger shuffled in, bent and thin, on a walker. He wore a baseball cap, pulled low to shield his light-sensitive eyes. When he removed it, I saw that his face was covered with scabs, his bald head mottled in odd colors. 

Jen spoke first, asking how much I knew of Roger’s medical situation. I shared what I’d been told, being careful not to paint too negative a picture. Then Roger spoke. …

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Reference Range

Veneta Masson

Your tests show
the numbers 73, 90, 119 and 2.5,
the letter A,
the color yellow,
a straight line interrupted by a repeating pattern
of steeples and languid waves,
a gray asymmetrical oval
filled with fine white tracery,
35 seconds,
100 millimeters,
II.

I’m not sure what to make of these.
With the possible exception of II,
which like all Roman numerals
is subject to misinterpretation,
I see no cause for alarm.
I admit to a preference for low numbers,
the apothecary system over the metric
(my age, perhaps, and distrust of pure logic)
and the letter W,
though most of my colleagues favor
M.

I think you can be happy with yellow
and, based on my experience,
the fact that the straight line is punctuated.
Seconds, millimeters–I marvel at their finitude,
but this oval, so intricate, so light,
might well contain a universe.
Is it normal, you ask.
Normal’s a shell game you seldom win.
Take my advice. Enjoy good health
not as your due but the blessing it is
like Spring, laughter,
death.

About the poet:

Veneta Masson RN is a nurse and poet living in Washington, DC. She has written three books …

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A Brush With the Beast

It all begins one Sunday morning when Mrs. Morris, a 75-year-old retiree with a heart condition, trips on her way out of church. She falls flat on the sidewalk, can’t get up, and ends up in our Bronx emergency room. A CT scan shows a pelvic fracture, and she’s admitted to our inpatient team.

When I join the family medicine residents to see Mrs. Morris the following day, she can’t get out of bed. She’s got short, unruly white hair and a gee-whiz expression that charms us. “What a pain!” she says. Given how close she lives to the brink–terrible circulation has cost her one heart attack and several toe amputations–I’m impressed with her good cheer.

Things looks promising. Follow-up studies confirm that the fracture won’t require surgery, and in the afternoon a physical therapist pilots her through a few wobbly steps.

The next morning we come to Mrs. Morris’s room and find her peering at a novel. “I think it would be great fun to be a secret agent, don’t you?” she says to me.

We make arrangements to transfer her to a rehabilitation facility, where therapy will get her walking again.

All goes smoothly until a hospital …

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The Pencil Man of Western Boulevard

Paula Lyons

His history was Dickensian. As a little boy, born with an IQ of about 80 and a wandersome nature, he’d toppled onto the train tracks and gotten run over. How he didn’t die is a mystery–this was more than fifty years ago, and he lost both legs up to his hips–but live he did.

I met him in the hospital, where he’d had surgery on the pressure sores that came from long hours perched in a wheelchair. When I asked him to roll over so I could see, he hoisted his whole body (200 pounds without legs!) out of the bed via the orthopedic trapeze. His arms were massively strong, his disposition was sweet, and he spoke and behaved like a well-mannered six-year-old. “My name is Andy,” he told me. “I like you.”

At the nursing station, the charge nurse teased, “So now you’ve met the Pencil Man of Western Boulevard.” That was how the folks of Baltimore knew him–I was caring for a minor celebrity! Every day except Sunday, Andy sat in his wheelchair on the sunny corner of Western and Eastham, next to a leafy park, selling pencils and chatting with passersby. It was not a …

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