We Were Both New That Day

Bernadine Han

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.

He decompensated,
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
–without watermelon,

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.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer


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1 thought on “We Were Both New That Day”

  1. Your poem hit home about the importance of listening and honoring our patients as human beings that we are privileged to be caring for rather than objects of billable tasks! Thanks. If only we could have charged for the watermelon, then maybe it would have been a priority. Sigh…we will do better.

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Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"