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The year is 2015, and I’m on my thirteenth surgical mission, but my first to Venezuela. I am a plastic surgeon, traveling with a nonprofit that offers free plastic surgery for people with birth defects such as cleft lip. We’re making a two-week visit to the coastal city of Cumaná, 250 miles east of Caracas.
Halfway through our first day of surgery, I’m asked to come out to the waiting area to assess a young
Detroit, January 1997
In a haze of sleeplessness, I open the door to the general-surgery call room (aka “the Garage”) just after midnight. I’m one of two third-year medical students on this call team, and if I arrive first, I might be able to avoid the bunks with the most creased sheets and the pillows with head indentations still on them. The entire general-surgery team sleeps in this one room, with its messy bunks for
“There’s a transplant happening today,” said Sophie Lee, a resident, glancing at her pager.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was a second-year medical student doing a clerkship on the hepatobiliary surgery service (specializing in the liver and bile ducts).
I felt a pang of disappointment: Now I couldn’t go home until after dinner. But there was no use complaining. I followed Sophie to see the transplant recipient, Mr. Franklin.
Rusted nearly through at the base
of their pale green throat,
the amaryllis buds are trying to bloom,
like a person with a tracheotomy
trying to say a poem.
I snip off the buds, leaking dark red
from their diseased wound, trimming
them to clean pale stubs to put in water.
Day to day, the largest furled bud
is loosening into white
a paper gown, an intravenous tube and silence greater than my symptoms
sterile sheets speak my fear & insecurity saying will you be there with me
come back after the anesthesia has broken up with me and hold me
could you love a cure that hasn’t found itself yet? will your grace go down
with me weeping and swinging because time is spilling its sand and I
Andrea Eisenberg ~
Seeing patients in my ob/gyn office this morning, I try to stave off the mild nervousness rumbling inside of me. My good friend Monica is having a C-section this afternoon, and I’m performing it.
We met ten years ago, when I walked my three-year-old daughter into Monica’s preschool classroom for the first time. Monica sat on the floor, a child in her lap and others playing around her. Like them,
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 thirteen-year-old boy sits in a battered ENT exam chair. Henry, my Kenyan colleague, hands me a blurry CT scan. “His neck mass has grown for two years,” Henry says. “We think it is a glomus vagale tumor. Do you agree?”
I hold the scan up to a window. The vascular mass fills the side of the boy’s neck, displacing his carotid artery. “That’s probably right,” I respond. “At home, we would get more studies. We
based on Robert Schumann’s Third String Quartet, Movement 1
We meet in the holding room; a paper dress covers your tattoos
At any moment, your craze of fragile vessels
could spill, fill the sea cave cradling your mind
Your wife holds your hand until it is time for us to go
I guide you as you blow through a straw
swimming across your long day of surgery
Tears in the operating room are different from tears cried by civilians, by veals.
There are rules.
A single tear from one eye is unobjectionable.
Two tears, either one from each eye
or two from one eye
are permitted if they are unaccompanied by sniffles.
Three tears risks discovery and humiliation.
There are rules.
The mechanics of crying in the OR are difficult.