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Editor's Commentary on "Comfort Measures"

 , November 09, 2013

“[T]he skittish filmstrip merges / disparate continents of memory”. Alok Sachdeva starts his pocket-sized poem with this powerful image. It starts the reader on an examination of life and death. Life starts as an intact movie, with scenes and images fluidly transitioning. But age and illness break up the routine. Death comes in many forms, but always with the dismantling of a carefully planned life. Scenes disappear, lines are forgotten, characters fade away. As physicians, we only see broken glimpses of our patients lives, between physical exams and hospital stays. Despite this intermittent access to our patients lives, we are occasionally granted the great privilege of being present when they die. “[Y]our eyes and mouth are open / as you make your escape”. Sachdeva draws us into the scene of his patients death. Seeming like an ornament in the room, he stays with the patient as the world moves around them. “A vigil gathers around you / as loss descends—your dense body / sinks in the mattress.” The film runs in slow motion. Then he listens to the silence of the heart, death, making the call. After this moment, his role changes. He is no longer doctor for this patient. The professional ties have been cut, yet he is still left wondering: “What more can I do for you / to ease your suffering?”

Bryan Sisk, MD
Deputy Editor, The Living Hand