Post-Op Poet

Judy Schaefer ~

How can I write a poem, nurse, in this pelted room? Nurse? Nurse!
Memory loss, southern pine–nurse, this is not a poem-writing-room
The floors ooze resin at your footsteps
          Spanish moss, from every wall
Spongy trod of medical students
Surgery went well, anesthesia lifted
Cologne of betadine, a boarish root for a vein
at the same time each morning. I welcome
the lady of the mop–tincture of mossy pine
back and forth, she says her prayers. She is my alarm clock.
I peek from crusty eyelids and dread the washcloth
Back and forth–path and path–room and nurse
How does one begin a poem? How to start?
Anesthesia has lifted long ago
I try to remember how I got here
          What needled trail? What chartered bus?
I was on my way to grandmother’s house
in a hooded red cloak and I visited a wolf within a worded fairy tale
There was a turn–in a worded road–and I was lost. Nurse? Nurse!

About the poet:

A Pulse poetry editor, Judy Schaefer edited the first biographical/autobiographical work by English-speaking nurse-poets, The Poetry of Nursing: Poems and Commentaries of Leading Nurse-Poets (Kent State University Press, 2006); she also coedited the first international anthology of creative writing by nurses, Between the Heartbeats (University of Iowa Press, 1995) and a second volume, Intensive Care (University of Iowa Press, 2003). She has been published in Academic Medicine, American Journal of Nursing and The Lancet. Her most recent book is Wild Onion Nurse: A Collection of 25 Years of the Poetry of Nursing in a College of Medicine Literary Journal (Radcliffe, 2010).

About the poem:

“After gastrointestinal surgery, although appearing alert, I felt gauzy in my head, without a sense of myself. My identity as a poet, as a stacker of words on top of each other to create a poem, had vanished into the fog of general anesthesia. Dreams and fairy tales swirled in my mind, inspired by the odor of pine cleaning solution; whether this odor was imagined or real, I’m not sure. My fellow nurses and other staff members were my gradual reality-orientation guides. The smiles of the supportive staff, such as housekeeping, dietary and volunteers, were more meaningful than one might imagine. Each and every person who entered and exited my room played a role in pulling me out of that foggy forest of surgical amnesia. It will surprise no one that I, a retired RN, relish my ‘job’ as a hospital volunteer.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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About the Poem


7 thoughts on “Post-Op Poet”

  1. I see “the lady of the mop” with her tincture of mossy pine and feel I know her.. And the “needled trail.” So many of us have found ourselves on this precarious and cloud-hidden path to–where? We may not write because we are lost in a poem.

  2. Thank you Judy for showing us the way back. And the importance of the faces you see, who welcome you into this world again. The others around us, whom we need to help us come back safely.
    And thank you for picking up your pen again. We need your poetry as well as your presence behind the ‘information’ desk or wherever you are. Do the lost folks at your hospital have any idea of the wealth of information this lady has? Thank you Nurse, Nurse.

  3. How beautifully you have captured the scattered images that float around once anesthesia had evaporated!
    What needled trail? What chartered bus?
    I was on my way to grandmother’s house
    in a hooded red cloak and I visited a wolf within a worded fairy tale
    There was a turn–in a worded road–and I was lost. Nurse? Nurse!

  4. Nurse, poet, hospital volunteer…
    Grateful your path, your trail, and that chartered bus took you to places that have allowed you to write so exquisitely. We, the readers, are enriched by your words. I imagine your patients have been, too.

  5. Thank you, Judy, for such a wonderful poem. Lovely, deftly captures telling images, repetitions, confusion and clarity. Sorry you had to go through surgery to create this, but am thankful to have the opportunity to read it.

  6. kathleen grieger

    A truly lovely poem. Description, and thoughts to with them.
    Thanks for bringing us along so well.
    I love where you broke your lines

    When I had my first brain surgery, I was told not to write, I said I could, and did. Weeks later, I went to read it. Most of it made no sense, repetition etc. But, I was able to get a picture of what was happening by single words. How thoughts are formed by simple things, you really caught them well.

  7. Judy, a wonderful poem with right-on images. You captured perfectly that “coming back” from anesthesia and whatever strange lands we visit as we “sleep” during surgery.

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