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Every month More Voices invites readers to contribute short nonfiction prose pieces of 40 to 400 words on a healthcare theme.

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Erika D. Walker ~

I stare at my chicken patty,
the limp lettuce, pale tomato
sliver, open the small

mayonnaise packet, even though
I don’t eat mayonnaise.
I pour my milk, set the carton

on the table, slide aside
the red Jell-O. If I don't look
up, I won’t be where I am.

Father wears a blue dress shirt,
not his own, stares,
not speaking, not noticing

the shirt is buttoned wrong,
brown stain on the front.
His hair stands straight up

and wild, blown by some private
windstorm. A woman alone
at the next table, tied
 
to a wheelchair, howls
each breath, in and out,
low and loud, over and over.

I try to breathe outside of her breathing,
but I cannot. Not even the watery
Christmas carols pouring through

the dining room can drown
her out. I want to scream,
to shut this woman up. I want

to grab my father, spin
his wheelchair around,
take him back home, back

to last week, back to twenty years ago,
away from the chicken patty
that resists my knife.
 

About the poet:

Erika D. Walker's writing has been published in Pulse—voices from the heart of medicine, Literary Mama, Medical Literary Messenger, Bird's Thumb and The Human Touch: Journal of Poetry, Prose and Visual Art. She coauthored the book Denver Mountain Parks: 100 Years of the Magnificent Dream, which won the 2014 Colorado Book Award (history category), and she recently completed her first memoir, Loyalty Was a Kind of Love, about the loss of her father. She lives in Denver.

About the poem:

"My elderly father had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, but was living independently until pneumonia sent him to the hospital, the nursing home and eventually to assisted living, where he passed away eighteen months later. My father had always been a faithful and steady presence in my life; it was frightening and unimaginable to see him so ill and incapacitated. This poem expresses a moment in the journey of trying to come to terms with this new reality of my father's illness."

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Stacy Nigliazzo

Comments   

# Ronna L. Edelstein 2019-12-01 20:48
What a beautiful--and realistic--poem ! My beloved father and I experienced the nursing home about which you wrote. Fortunately, after only ten weeks in the facility, I was able to bring Dad home; he died in my arms, surrounded by familiar sights, sounds, and smells. Oh, we adult children just want to do the best for our elderly parents, but the situation is a difficult one.
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# Erika Deane Walker 2019-12-02 14:36
Thank you for writing. As you say, it is very difficult to care for our parents, but the care we can give is a consolation when they are gone. Best wishes to you ... Erika
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# Linda Clarke 2019-11-30 13:48
Your poem is aching and sad. I wish you father peace. My parents, too. And us, when the time comes.
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# Erika Deane Walker 2019-12-03 23:41
Thank you for your kind words.
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# Pris Campbell 2019-11-30 05:53
You speak for my wish that I could have rolled both of my dying parents back to where they once were. Very good poem.
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# Sara Ann 2019-11-29 22:20
My mom died of COPD and CHF. I took care of her in her home. It was a progressive decline over more than a decade, and the last few years of her life she was bedridden. No chicken patties for her. Definitely no jello. And no soiled clothing on her for more than fifteen minutes. Pretty nightgowns and pajamas that I bought for her. And I cooked for her three times a day. She actually gained weight in what turned out to be very long-term hospice care. I gave her excellent care in her home. However, caregiving for someone who is very ill and incapacitated takes a huge toll on the caregiver, even if the parent is the most charming person ever (mine was not). I'm not sure I would do it again, knowing what I know now about the difficulty, and the lack of real support for caregivers ("here's a website with information; here's a brochure; here's a list of what you should be doing for yourself that is full of ideas that are absolutely impossible in your circumstances" isn't support). And as I traversed the long, lonely, arduous, tedious, thankless road of caring for my mother, I stopped judging others who put their loved ones in facilities. It really is difficult to care for an elder in their own home, and it gets harder the longer it lasts and the sicker they get. We three children promised my mother we would care for her in her home, and -- guess what -- in our family like the majority of others the lion's share of the burden falls to one child. In our case, one of my siblings went to live overseas to pursue his occupational dreams and the other began a love affair with alcohol. In the absence of great material wealth to purchase respite care (also not our situation), it was overwhelming to care for my mother. I don't know what the answer is; I think the singular familial burden is unfair and I don't think that facilities do the best job of caring for elders. I kept my promise to my mother. That's something. But it was extremely costly, and I'm not just talking about money. I didn't allow myself to question my decision while I was caring for her. But now I wonder if I should have been more conscious of my own needs, and more selfish.
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# andrea 2019-11-29 20:04
Powerful. Having worked a little in a nursing home, I can see, hear, smell and taste the anguish and heartache in this poem.
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