We were both new that day.
He had come for a new knee.
I was doing my first admission.
Suddenly he was short of breath.
He’d had a cough for a long time, yes,
with blood in it.
and I watched him.
I learned about acute respiratory distress,
ARDSNET protocol in the ICU.
I left the service,
and so did he, eventually.
The discharge note was written weeks later.
I read it at home.
“The patient expired.”
Penultimately, he had asked,
Do you think I’ll get better soon?
The last thing I heard him say:
I would die
for some watermelon.
Another team watched him die
having never heard his voice.
About the poet:
Bernadine Han graduated from the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program and is now a resident physician in psychiatry at the Payne Whitney Clinic of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
About the poem:
“Poetry is not my native tongue. I was trying to write about how–despite the collision of the provider’s and the patient’s worlds, and despite the intensive presence of the provider–so much of a person remains unknown to us at some of life’s profoundest and most intimate moments.”
Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer