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This month... COVID-19

Tabor Flickinger

On the monitor at the nurses’ station
the floor’s heart rhythms march together,
joined here
on one screen.
I leave you with your family and wait
beyond the glass room, following your
journey from outside.
Your tracing magnified;
three leads glow green on black
rise and fall with the polarizing
vectors, sharp peaks
and valleys of the
land you walk. I watch the change:
there are the new
Q waves, there an inverted T
there the infarction
as your tight
coronaries fail
to perfuse,
your overworked
muscle dies.
The beats look sick
They space further
and further apart
slow down
flatten out
To the
You cross
into the
where I
no more.
I watch
with a different
eye as you awake again,
shed an exhausted shell and
leap to the sky, white on white.

About the poet:

Tabor Flickinger is an internal-medicine physician and poet who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her work has previously appeared in Pulse, Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine and Hospital Drive. "I enjoy exploring the intersection between medicine and the arts, as two complementary means of understanding the world."

About the poem:

"This poem was written about an experience that I had while working in the intensive-care unit during residency. It describes the death of a patient, as observed on the monitors, while also referencing the life-after-death that goes beyond our technology. This particular patient and his wife had a strong religious faith, which was inspiring to me in the midst of an otherwise tragic situation."

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer


# Nary 2016-07-09 02:01
This poem is very touching. It brings back memories for me as I experienced similar events. I remembered feeling very sad at the time, to watch death takes it's natural course. I'm so used to seeing a team of medical personnels trying to save a life. But as for this pt, she was comfort care. There were no words to describe it. But when you put it into a poem, it's beautiful.
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# Harry Chaikin, M.D. 2013-10-14 13:25
Nicely written poem but hopefully fictional ethically-speak ing. I presume that the patient described had a DNR status while personnel were watching him block down and not treating. And if the patient was DNR, why in the world would he still be electrocardiogr aphically monitored???
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# alex 2013-10-11 23:34
This is such a wonderful story !!!
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# Cate W 2013-10-07 09:04
The changing poetic rhythms here--made visible in the line lengths, but perfectly audible if you read the piece aloud--mirror the changing heart rhythms. In particular, "flatten out/ to the/ long" comes almost completely to a halt because every syllable is stressed except the "en" in "flatten," which we don't really hear as a syllable. Most of the time we say "flattn" not "flat-en." The word "plateau" opens up--wow, our first clearly non-stressed syllable in almost forever. Then watch how "o'" sounds animate almost every subsequent line, to the concluding "white on white." The poet here makes her location "beyond the glass door" as intimately present as at the bedside, because for her the cardiac tracings are themselves a kind of poetry. What an achievement. Thanks for the time and talent necessary to craft this piece.
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# Linda lee 2013-10-05 20:34
Absolutely beautiful. I also could feel your intensity as you painted a visualization.
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# Scott Newport 2013-10-04 17:39
Wow, really loved the intensity.
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# julia mckechnie 2013-10-05 07:21
This poem was very moving.I recall the first death I witnessed, during my nursing training over 35 years ago. The patient was very terrified, and alarmed at the hospital staff working on him,after he arrested. I never wrote or talked about that death with anyone.
Thanks for sharing your moments with your patient.
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