Print Email

Medical Humanities

Sunday Morning

Erin Falk

He is room 4K14, the third case (non-urgent), MRN 665371, his nurse Elizabeth, resident Nathan, another sad story, he is initials and room numbers on a long list, a tragic map we follow each morning up and down the stairs across a linoleum maze and into glass-encased rooms before the early light reaches any of us
a flurry of green enters, checking drips and settings and rates pressing on his belly and listening to his heart beating and are you mom and dad and do you know what sort of drugs he did we are the team taking care of him if you
we know it is a lot when was the last time you saw him normal
need anything, call
we can bring you a pillow or a blanket bathrooms are down the hall and snacks are on the second floor it’s not your fault, really.

after the tracheotomy, he asked for a hand razor

before tenuous, his breath returned
the depths and pressures calculated,
a rhythm too precise, too predictable.
his chest swelled, rising and falling
with waves we only notice when the shore is directionless
here is a novice sailor
and a seemingly unending horizon ahead.

we waited, adjusting
shuffling in our bright blue gowns, looking out, up, anywhere
it had to be a hand razor.
first, suds carefully spread avoiding the sting that brings tears to young eyes,
soft, pillowy shaving cream mowed carefully, Sunday mornings across the angle of his mandible.
he trimmed the lifeless, motionless young man’s face,
meticulously, like this is what he trained to do, he does this every day
then a toothbrush, then a comb.
dirt slid down his skin, rippling along his forehead and cheeks,
settling into the feathery wrinkles of his eyelids and that crease perched on his upper lip
deftly wiped off like a smudge before a family photograph.

away washed weeks of so sorry acute hepatic decline splanchnic hypoperfusion anuria phenylephrine
we don’t know how long he was down increasing oxygen demands he overdosed
wires and lines and saying the wrong thing spiraled onto the operating room floor, opalescent and luminous.

a process and person unrecognizable,
obstructed by tubes and monitors anchoring him to this earth
the mechanical whirl of breath too evenly spaced
the future an oceanic uncertainty
a face that hadn’t been touched in two weeks

he returned to them a son.

Editor's Commentary


Erin Falk is a medical student at Emory University.  She spent a lot of time writing poetry in her undergraduate career, and taught poetry to elementary schoolers in West Harlem before medical school. She is exploring poetry as a means to express her experiences as a learner during medical school.

*The names, room number and MRN have been changed to protect patient confidentiality.