Editor's Commentary on 'What Kind of Vigil?'
March 20, 2015
In “What Kind of Vigil?” author Nathaniel Brown, PGY 3 in Anesthesiology at the University of Colorado, beautifully distills our sense of smallness in the face of sickness’ enormous, immutable progress. And yet, he does so by portraying care and commitment, not surrender. The narrator “work(s) now with, now against / Masterful changes wrought through / Eons” despite the fact that the patient has slipped beyond reach of medicine’s capacity to heal. Nathaniel captures this depth of illness with a memorable turn of phrase regarding his patients, who are “Scraped thin over suffering.” This line projects an image that is at once pitiful and powerful, capturing the essence of sickness on the brink of death. Another line straddles two stanzas to great effect, “I bring no warmth, only cold / / Instruments,” highlighting the tepid assistance we are sometimes left to offer those under our care. Nevertheless, the point of engagement for this poem, aside from the spare craft of its language, is that the destiny of the caregiver and the patient is intertwined: “Time will consummate their fates and mine. / Sometime soon, maybe even / Tonight.” Despite the darkness, the cold, and the temptation to retreat emotionally into the concept of “futility,” this doctor continues alongside the patient; he continues to care.