Pulse newmasthead 10th anniv 2252x376px

Welcome to Pulse

Telling the personal story of health care...by and for everyone--patients, health professionals and students of narrative medicine.


new subscription

Join the 11,000+ who receive Pulse weekly

energize subscription 
Energize your subscription
with a contribution and
Pulse vibrant

Readers tell us their stories...
This month... COVID-19

Jack Coulehan

I eavesdrop on the cells in your brain,
which are trying to bust out of a prison
surrounded by broken connections.

They make an almost inaudible hum
beneath mechanical whooshes and pings
surrounding your hospital bed. I listen

while sitting with your hand in mine,
not comforted by the confusion
of intensive care--I know your brain

is scheming, despite these machines
and my heartache, to escape. Its intention
is clear--get out while there is still time.

Some of the doctors say, She’s young and strong.
Do the tunnelers in your brain hear them?
I eavesdrop--the messages you send are thin

and receding. There must be a billion
routes to escape your prison
and each one takes you away from me.

About the poet:

Jack Coulehan is a poet, physician and medical educator whose work appears frequently in medical journals and literary magazines. His sixth collection of poetry, The Wound Dresser, selected by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky as a finalist for the 2016 Dorset Prize, was published this summer by JB Stillwater. In 2012 he received the Nicholas Davies Award of the American College of Physicians for "outstanding lifetime contributions to the humanities in medicine."

About the poem:

"For decades I've observed unresponsive patients in ICUs, and their distraught friends and family members. I've wondered about the mystery of human consciousness. Despite the advances of neuroscientists, no one has any idea how electrochemical reactions create a self, an interior life. In this poem I imagine myself confronting this mystery in someone I love."

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer


# Warren Holleman 2016-08-04 12:36
I love the poem--it allows me to eavesdrop on the cells of Jack Coulehan's brain, which goes places I want to go and sees things I want to see. Thanks!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
# Chuck Joy 2016-07-31 21:21
Jack Coulehan, a welcome voice!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
# Yehudit Reishtein 2016-07-30 14:48
What a powerful piece!
I recognize the family member and the patient here--you capture them both in your words.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
# Barbara Young 2016-07-30 13:37
What a wonderful, wonderful poem!

We are getting closer and closer, I guess, to solving some of the mysteries engaging Dr. Coulehan--OR ARE WE?

I wish he would write a long prose piece in addition to his poetry, just so we could follow the exquisite meandering of his lovely brain.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
Our latest...

Pulse: Editors' Picks


a vibrant anthology of stories and poems


Foreword by Perri Klass MD and Sketches by Alan Blum MD


"Pulse is that rare confluence of the best of medicine and modern life...This anthology is a total pleasure." Louise Aronson MD


Now available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble




mainencounterspicEncounters, our latest feature: Patients talk about their healthcare experiences and share stories about their lives outside the doctor's office.

Latest Comments

  • Whatever Else
    Lara Nixon
    Thank you so much - I've more than once "lost sight of [their] body", overwhelmed by my patients' ...


  • Love in the Time of COVID-19
    Marianne Lonsdale
    Your story was fascinating to me. I'm so glad you wrote and shared it. My best to you, your husband and ...


  • Whatever Else
    Stephanie Friedman
    This moved me a great deal, which I take to mean that the poet, unknown to me, accomplished in the ...


Pulse Links