August 2018

Time of Death: N/A

A few months ago, while I was helping my mother organize a suitcase full of various documents, I came across a piece of paper that I had never seen before: my father’s death certificate.

Fifteen years ago, my father suddenly fell ill. After a trip to the hospital, the initial diagnosis was bronchitis. But following three days of unrelenting malaise, my father returned to the hospital and was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. Two weeks later, he was dead.

Saved from Myself

My obsession started with Anna Mayfield, one of my labor patients. She had a normal labor, but the baby’s heart rate dropped precipitously in the delivery room.

When the baby was handed off to me, he was dusky, not crying and limp as a piece of cooked spaghetti. I pressed an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, suctioned mucus from his stomach, rubbed his back, flicked the soles of his feet. He remained unresponsive.

Riding the Anxiety Seesaw

I have always worked to deadlines. Even in college, when I was passionately engaged in a subject like Shakespeare’s plays, I was perversely proud of being able to write “A” papers by staying up all night. My cabinet still holds a paper upon which the professor wrote “I don’t know how, Ms. Gordon, but it seems you have done it again.” 

It drives my husband crazy. He is a planner, has great self-discipline, a wide variety of interests and an awe-inspiring CV. He can have four projects and three articles in progress at once, tracking his progress on each, while I need to sprint to the finish-line of whichever is due next. If you need me to do something, be sure to tell me when you need it done.

Why is it so hard to just sit down with my hazelnut coffee, a lined pad and good pen or a computer and get to work? Why is the cat suddenly in need of attention? Why am I hungry? Why do the dishes in the sink abruptly become offensive? 

What’s Left Over

Ruth Bavetta ~

One and a half tubes of smörgåskaviar, most
of a jar of blueberry jam, a full jar of lingonberries.
Four sets of blue plaid pajamas–God forbid
I should have gotten him red. Six pairs
of reading glasses, going back
in five-year increments. Hearing-aid
batteries stashed by the lamp.
Three packages of adult diapers.
Our marriage certificate.
The rest of the morphine.

To Envy a Canine

It’s 0348. I fell awake at 0234, such a pretty number. I recall residency, it was only a year ago…seeing funny times like that on the top of my consult sheets, praying for a stable floor and speedy 0730.

But I’m not on call. I want to sleep, but I can’t. The melatonin usually works, but it’s been failing of late. Why is that sodium so low? Did I give the right advice to that dad with his child’s fever? That lady with back pain had cancer ten years ago: when was her last mammogram? His cancer is progressing quickly: has he told his wife he wants medical assistance in dying?

Far From Routine

The Vietnam war turned Ned from a tough-as-nails fighter into a worried soul as fragile as porcelain. He survived his tour of duty physically intact, but with his emotional resilience worn away like an old roof, allowing disabling fear to deluge over something as routine as a blood pressure check.

August Angst

I think I was born feeling anxious. If nothing external causes my anxiety, then I find internal reasons: a slight pain in my side, an ache in my head, a bump on my leg. However, once a year—every August—my anxiety leaps off the chart. It is time for my mammogram.
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