Last Day

Last Day
It’s my job to empty a plastic bag
filled with meds both past and present
and read out loud the labels of those we stopped,
and explain why, and while we’re on why
why he needs oxygen at night, and the rescue inhaler.
Between pills it’s my job to ask in a generic way
about life outside the clinic? He takes out his phone
because his story needs a prop.
His ex called yesterday, Only one ex, one’s enough,

no kids, that’s another story, just kids then, just friends now,
and she goes on and on, what if what if what if,
but after a while he has to do his business and promises to call back,
but forgets until something suddenly reminds him to call.
A half-second later, half the speed of premonition,
his phone rings–her sister, or a niece, or a cousin,
and not just to chat. Silence needs a moment to sink in.
He snaps his fingers. Just like that is how.
He shrugs. Out of the blue in case I wondered.
He shows me the phone one more time to make sure,
then goes back to building a tower of bottles to take home.
I build a tower that stays here.
Yes, it is strange how life works.
I always owe someone a call.
Maybe my job owes him a condolence note, or something?
He may not remember, or decided to forget,
Today’s my last day.
We give that a moment too.
He takes a long hit from his puffer.
He looks at me then through me, then a wheeze, then a sigh.
You’re my boy he exhales, and that’s it for goodbye.

Daniel Becker practiced and taught general internal medicine at the UVA School of Medicine from 1985 through July 1, 2018. He stayed retired for two months. Currently he supervises students and residents in the Free Clinic, in the addiction clinic and in home visits.

About the Poem

“I made the patient a married man, then arranged for his divorce and all of the ambivalence around separation and loss and goodbyes and retirement. It is strange how life works. When I wrote the poem, I’d been wondering how to teach students to improvise and listen to body language.”

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1 thought on “Last Day”

  1. Sara Ann Conkling

    THANK YOU for giving your time to the Free Clinic, and for visiting patients at home. I myself have been in that gray area of being too sick to drive the 35 minutes to my doctor, and not quite sick enough for the emergency room, and I’ve often thought of what a blessing it would be if I knew any doctor who did house calls. Instead I’m too often home alone sick. Bless you for removing that burden for some.

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