Politicians…were quick to rise to the defense
of a particularly vulnerable population. As a group,
dual-eligibles [Medicare-Medicaid] have incomes below
the poverty rate…and take an average of 15 medications a day.
January 14, 2006
This is how it works:
as wealth trickles down
to the poor and old
it turns into pills.
So M and S, their slender portfolios
long since depleted, can still
compete for bragging rights.
I take twenty a day, says M.
Ha! counters S, I take so many
they had to put in a port.
G presides over the corporate enterprise,
At twenty, I started working the HIV
ward, midnight to morning. Left my husband
sleeping, mouth-open to the air, to
drive through the dark body of the city.
Every shift, the warning about infections.
Me sliding on booties, disposable
gown and gloves. Even through the mask,
you could smell decay, the way viruses
swept through bodies. I did what was needed:
held hands through double-gloves, took blood
or confessions when I could, told off-white lies
to thin cracked lips that knew the truth.
Once, a year or so into it, I stuck
myself, pointed red end of
Howard F. Stein
We know so much about you–
Your blood, your urine, your internal organs.
We can see everything.
There is precious little that
Is not wrong with you medically.
Still, you do not listen to us.
You miss appointments;
You don’t go to referrals we’ve made.
Do you defy us or merely not understand
How dire your condition is?
You could die at any time,
We have told you more than once.
Still, you muddle along as if all we know
Does not matter. Tell me, what
Is missing from our story?
Have we failed to impress
One: secretarial computer screen:
appointments, cancellations. Two: machine
we’re here for, registering your heart’s each pump
with grainy images that throb and jump
in sync with the obscure interior.
Three: anticlimactic VCR
screen, a tiny, garish old cartoon
squawking and jerking in the darkened room.
Past these respective renderings of vision
we move next door. Here the examination
is palpable, is stethoscope to chest:
breath in, out, raise your arms, stand, squat, and rest.
I’m sitting, staring vaguely at the sky–
from the ninth floor, a pale blue vacancy.
What is a window but another frame
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,
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)
Exhaustion sets in by day’s end
when the old Pakistani woman
hobbles into my office.
Raccoon eyes underscore the pain
she feels in her left leg. More cavalier
than a Hippocratic disciple should be,
I pull up her djellaba* to expose
the dark, tumescent flesh of her calf
monogrammed by serpiginous veins.
I am too aggressive with the needles
that search for the source
of the white-hot poker lancinating
from ankle to groin, muscular infidelity.
She is stoic,
so well schooled
what if we went slowly thoughtfullyabout the business of healing
what if I bowedto you and you to mebefore we touched aching bodies
what if we saidout loudthisis sacred workmight I be madeworthy
what if I blessed your handsand you minebefore we began
broken bodieshungry souls
would we then returnto the placewhere so long agowe felt called
where we knew for sure thatwe did indeedhave hearts
hearts that beat confidentlyfullof ambition
hearts that were courageousenough to break
againand againand again
hearts that were not afraidto weep