Personal Narrative
Nov 2001

Commemorative Issue: Sag

Jennifer Bau
Virtual Mentor. 2001;3(11): doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2001.3.11.prsp2-0111.

 

Rumble, rumble of elevators 
Whir, whir of conversation 
Flashes of plain clothes, suits, skirts, and scrubs 
Weaving between beds, wheelchairs, canes. 
In this morning hospital hallway, 
Thin, gray surgeon 
Stops at a painting 
Pulling on the wall, 
Gleaming white coat 
Starched, long and flowing, 
Embroidered with many titles 
Pockets sagging with the weight 
Of tools, pens, papers, pager, 
Sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, 
Baggy eyes squint 
At the painting of the patient 
Wrapped in the healing snakes. 
He thinks 
Nice contour of reconstructed breast 
Navel drops off to the left a bit 
Too bad about lymphedema in the arm 
Zipping around the corner, 
Medical student in jeans, T-shirt, 
Back sagging from the weight of 
Books, books, books 
In her backpack, 
Sipping coffee from a travel mug, 
Stops short. 
Crashing into old, important surgeons 
Is frowned upon. 
Baggy eyes meet baggy eyes 
Thin, wan smiles of understanding 
Are exchanged. 
She looks to the painting and thinks 
Snakes and a lady. 
Not on Friday's test. 
Peering closer, 
She wonders, 
Does the new breast bounce 
Like the other one? 
Does that scar show 
With a bikini on? 
Three seconds of silence, then 
The surgeon's pager screams 
And the med student is reminded 
To go learn the lymphatic drainage system 
Of the breast. 
Later, in his office, 
The surgeon settles in his chair 
Behind his great oak desk, 
Runs his slender fingers 
Over the dusty framed photos, 
His children's pictures from grade school 
All grown now, with families. 
He wonders how their mother 
Likes her new place. 
He thinks about the painting 
Pulling on the wall, 
The patient with the team 
Of helpful snakes, 
His shoulders sag 
And he whispers 
A verse his grandma taught him 
With men, things are impossible. 
With God, all things are possible. 
Yet I'm no longer God 
To them 
Later, in the library, 
The med student shifts in her chair, 
Now understanding the importance 
Of axillary and cutaneous lymph nodes, 
She stretches, cracks her knuckles, 
Notices the dent still on her finger 
Where the engagement ring 
Used to be. 
She thinks about the painting 
Pulling on the wall 
Her eyelids sag 
And she murmurs, 
Hope all those healing snakes are standard 
When my white coat 
Is long enough for respect 
Because it sure would be nice 
To not have to do everything 
All by myself 
The night hospital symphony plays, 
Hum, hum of generators 
Buzz, buzz of lights 
Blended with the sighs 
Of vending machines 
Grateful for some rest. 
And as the surgeon and the med student 
Step home to this beat 
To freezer meals and cold beds, 
The patient in the painting 
Pulling on the wall 
Cries out to the jaded journeyers 
We don't want everything you have 
And you don't have to be everything to us 
Just make sure that we're surrounded 
By more hands 
Than we can hold 

Citation

Virtual Mentor. 2001;3(11):

DOI

10.1001/virtualmentor.2001.3.11.prsp2-0111.

The viewpoints expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the AMA.