Third Party

Mary E. Moore

Tipping forward to escape
the wheelchair’s confines, the ancient one
pleads with her feet, “Go home.”

It’s her companion who volunteers 
the Chief Complaint: “Ever since her stroke,
Mother’s back seems to hurt.

Her doctors say there’s nothing can be done, 
but I thought that perhaps a specialist ….”
She strokes the old woman’s shoulders. 

“Does it hurt here, or there, or if I touch this?” 
My fingers probe among birdish bones.
Ignoring me, the patient whimpers, “Home.”

When the daughter’s eyes register pain, I say,
“I’ll inject this spot near her sacroiliac joint.
It may provide relief, in any case do no harm.”

I fill in the charge sheet attached to the chart.
Low back pain. Trigger point injection. 
Return PRN.
 But how should this be billed?

With the old woman’s medical insurance?
With the daughter’s?
Or should I pay for this one?


Editor’s Note: PRN is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase pro re nata, which in English means “as needed.”

About the poet:

Mary E. Moore earned a PhD as an experimental psychologist, but after working in a hospital, she decided to study for an MD. She became a rheumatologist, ultimately heading the division of rheumatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Since retiring from medicine in 2002, she has been writing poetry. Her poems have been published in many journals and can be seen online at her website,

About the poem:

“This poem reflects a real encounter with a patient. This encounter so impressed me that I wrote about it several years later.”

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

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