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Editor's Commentary on "Sunday Morning"

 , November 14, 2019

At some point in their early careers, medical students and resident physicians are exposed to the intensive care unit (ICU), a place, for many doctors and doctors-in-training, which triggers a deep emotional response. The sickest of the sick, often on multiple intravenous drips of blood pressure support medications and hooked up to life-supporting machinery, rest in these hospital beds. Patients in the ICU may not be able to speak because they are on a ventilator or may have nonsensical speech from altered consciousness. They may be sedated with medication and thus completely unresponsive. Team discussion about the day-to-day adjustments in treatment plans more often surrounds changes in laboratory values or vital signs and less so on the conversation (if any) a patient might have with the intensivist.

Without any doubt, medical care in the ICU requires impeccable accuracy, dedicated regimen, quick thinking, and targeted responsiveness to acute changes. The “unit,” as it is often called, fosters a sense of constant anticipation of possible outcomes and action plans – preparing for anything and everything, including death. However, in such focused and necessary attention to the medical minutiae, the humanity of the patient can often go unnoticed –perhaps even forgotten.

But, can we find humanity in the sterile, well-ordered, data-driven ICU?

Erin Falk describes her experience in the ICU in her poem, “Sunday Morning.” Her piece vividly expresses the pace of the ICU – organized chaos defined by hurried remarks overflowing with urgency and multiple conversations happening over one another in an oddly efficient asynchrony. The reader’s attention is pulled dramatically in several direction. Then, amidst the disorder and commotion she illustrates, Falk takes command and forces her audience to intentionally notice humanity as the tempo lengthens and her diction breathes life into the patient. Without giving too much away, be prepared to experience a rollercoaster of tempos, diction, and poetic forms. Pay close attention as you read Falk’s poem – much like medicine in the “unit,” the key rests in the details.

The Living Hand is proud to publish “Sunday Morning” as a call to always seek humanity in medicine even (and perhaps especially) in places we can lose touch with it.

Herbert Rosenbaum