A Difference of Tongues

I hold the hand of a frightened man

As he asks me questions I don’t understand

¿Qué pasa aquí? ¿Qué van a hacer?

The other patients point, whisper, and stare

The hospital’s busy for a midnight on call

We dodge carts and nurses as we rush through the halls

But when we arrive, we find the OR packed

They’ve been briefed on the accident: two dead on impact

The patient we have speaks not a word of English

Nor any other language which I can distinguish

But I can taste his fear, it’s a contagious thing,

I look all around, try to think of something

When a girl approaches; she’s no older than twenty

By her scrubs she’s a student, of which we have many

So I don’t know her name, or her year, or her role,

But she takes the patient’s hand, gentle and slow,

And whispers, Hola, señor. Me llamo Maria.

Está en el hospital. Necesita la cirugía.

The patient calms at her words, as if they came from an angel

His vitals relax into something more stable

I draw up medications and lay out the surgeons’ knives

Adjust the bed height and the overhead lights

But a few words were all he needed for comfort to be had

A familiar sound amid chaos was the best sedative we had

Surrender

no flight, don’t fight. just relax, and it’s over

don’t feel it, don’t hear it. he’s not even sober

go limp, go loose, let your mind disappear

and it’s over, all over. wipe off your tears

open your eyes, eyes that you don’t recall closing

what’s done is done, there’s no sense in opposing

the memory, the taste, the stench in your throat

you’re sinking, you’re drowning, but still somehow afloat

you’re gasping, you’re rasping. all the air’s gone

it’s his fault, it’s your fault. where did it go wrong?

reliving, replaying, you spiral to shame

you hate him, you fear him, you can’t remember his name

all alone, every day, you can try to move on

but you feel him beside you, long after he’s gone

while it might be better sometimes to let them have their way

no one ever warns you how the memories stay

and it’s not easy to forget, when you can’t help but remember

that night when you died, laid your arms down, and surrendered

Tired

So tired my eyes they burn with the weight

Of one thousand nights I’ve stayed up too late

And my bones groan, too, from the weight they’ve borne

A tired heart’s heavy, weepy, forlorn

And everything’s fuzzy inside of my head

I’m too tired for sleep, yet I still go to bed

And there I lie dreaming without closing my eyes

I see demons and monsters flash through the sky

And then, without tears, I cry for no reason

My body betrays me. I’d hang it for treason

But it hangs limp already. I’ve no strength to stand

Yet on and on I putter, searching for some safe place to land

Assault

so that’s what they call it

when he touches you

even though you said no

even though you didn’t want to

there’s a word for it, small

but it leaves a big impression

but i am no a victim

i will not be made a ‘victim’

i am strong, it doesn’t bother me

and i don’t want to complain

or cause trouble it’s not like i’m

pregnant

or anything

i just want to forget

maybe if i forget it will be like

it never happened

if i don’t say anything

if i keep quiet

no one will know

so sssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

i didn’t hear anything

did you?

Personal Hell

The bells rang out as the music swelled

Welcome, they sang, to your Personal Hell

I never knew that they sang as a matter of course

I was overjoyed to be here. I’d screamed myself hoarse.

But the demons emerge when you’re the least on edge

And leave you defenceless. With no proof, you allege

The crimes they commit, but they just laugh at you,

Saying you should have known what you’d gotten into

And it was my dream, once, and a lovely dream, too

I can still hear them ringing, even though I don’t want to

They sing in the dark, when nothing’s going well

Welcome, the bells sing, to your Personal Hell

Lead Turned to Gold

Like a thunderbolt they came, the feelings of old

Returning with a vengeance, lead turned to gold

Feelings I’d forgotten until they re-bloomed

They grew stronger and stronger, and I was consumed

And sometimes I think it’s too heavy to bear

Why am I doing this? It doesn’t seem fair

That I should sweat buckets over one little word

It’s irrational, illogical, altogether absurd!

But the heart knows no reason when the head’s in a tizzy

So I shelf my feelings, and try to keep busy

It’s a minor distraction, a temporary escape,

Disguising reality with a bit of duct tape

And though I might cry rivers when it’s over, for now,

I’ll stay calm and composed (or, at least, I’ll try to figure out how)

Searching for Gold

As I walk though the shadows, the moon holds my hand

A warm sense of comfort in a unfamiliar land

A land of despair where closed eyes cry

Where the old outlive the young, and birds die inside

Many spend whole lives searching for gold

Based on legends all children are told

Of true love and fame, of happiness, success

But ashes are ashes. They die just like the rest.

Creating change is hard. The night would say, but I know

To push boulders upwards is painstaking, and slow

And very risky, too, because boulders can fall down

And the fall is yours to take; you’ll find no one else around

But it is not impossible if you believe enough

Belief in something greater makes hardened cowards tough

And I’m a coward (oh, God knows) but I push boulders, too

So be careful on whom you tread lest, one day, they come after you

The Hospital Mash

I was working on the wards, late one night

When my eyes beheld an eerie sight

For the patient from his bed began to rise

And suddenly, to my surprise,

He did the Mash! He did the Hospital Mash!

He did the Mash! It was a Rounding Smash!

He did the Mash! The Nurses caught on in a Flash!

They did the Mash! They did the Hospital Mash!

From the student lounge in the second floor, east

To the cafeteria where everyone feasts

They all came running, as if towards a code

To get a jolt from my electrodes

They did the Mash! They did the Hospital Mash!

They did the Mash! It was a Call Night Smash!

They did the Mash! The Patients caught on in a Flash!

They did the Mash! They did the Hospital Mash!

Out of the speakers, the voices did ring

Seems they were troubled by just one thing

Instead of calling a code, they called out this:

“What is this madness? Have you forgotten The Twist?”

But it’s the Mash! It’s now the Hospital Mash!

It’s now the Mash! It’s a Triage Smash!

It’s now the Mash! It caught on in a Flash!

It’s now the Mash! It’s the Hospital Mash!

Now everything’s cool, it’s just a Med Student Band

And the Hospital Mash is the hit of the land

For you, the healthy, this mash was meant, too

When you get to the door, tell them Beatrice sent you

Then you can Mash! You can do the Hospital Mash!

And do the Mash! Do the Medical Smash!

Then you can Mash! You’ll catch on in a Flash!

And you can Mash! You can Hospital Mash!

Ah, ooooooooh! Ah, ah, ah, ooooooh!

Whisper

The day five-year-old Harry is discharged from the hospital, his mother thanks us profusely. I pay little attention to her gushing compliments; rounds have already lasted four hours, and there are eight of us total on the paediatric team (including the off-service residents and nurse practitioner student). Her attention is focused on the attending, anyway, so it seems safe safe to allow my mind to wander to my presentation the next day, reciting lines in my head as I whirl through invisible PowerPoint slides.

As we were leave the room, however, Harry’s mother tugs on my arm, a silent plea for a moment more of my time. Or a moment, period. Feelings of guilt erupt for not listening to her more closely. She is a kind lady, and a good mother. She deserves more respect.

“I truly meant it,” Harry’s mother says, as the guilt bubbling in my heart surges to a boil. “I can’t thank you enough. Harry loves you, too. You’ve done a lot for us.” Her voice is soft, as if she is sharing a secret. Perhaps she is; Harry’s mother works in the hospital, and is likely acquainted with the rigid hierarchy medical staff adhere to. A compliment to a subordinate in the presence of the wrong attending can effect a living hell. I’ve seen it firsthand.

Her comments surprise me, though. Although Harry is my patient, I know I haven’t been providing the best care for him. Ten months ago, I would have checked on all of my patients five to six times per day, allaying their fears, answering their questions, passing their concerns on to the attending physician. Now, though, Harry is lucky if I came in twice each day.

It isn’t from a lack of empathy, or a lack of interest, or a lack of concern. I spend my days running, always busy, always doing things, yet never seeming to get things done. I know the rumours about medical students: that we’re lazy, we avoid work, we spend all of our time on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the newer sites whose names I can’t recall. And those are true, just as all Americans drive pick-ups, or all Germans are beer-guzzling drunks. My personal emotional sensitivity is as sharp as ever; it’s as difficult for me to hold back tears now as it was on Day One. I still care, perhaps even more than when I started.

But I am tired. Exhausted. Even as Harry’s mother continues to whisper words of encouragement, I find my focus slipping. On the paediatric service, we are required to contribute 75 hours of work weekly. This does not include the time required for presentations, essays, exams, or off-service teaching sessions. I’d become robotic, functioning with a haze in my eyes which faded only when I fell into the few hours of senseless slumber I was permitted at the end of a nerve-wracking day. A nervous wreck, two blips from an explosion.

“We’ve bought him a D-R-U-M set for his birthday,” Harry’s mother says, watching her son race two tongue depressors across his bed, like boats. “He’s taken a liking to heavy metal and punk rock.”

It was mechanical. Wake up to the alarm, run, run, get to the hospital, run, run, get cursed at, push back tears, run, run, run home, try to study, try to write, fall asleep to nightmares just as the alarm beeped again.

“So, anyway, thank you for everything.” Harry’s mother now speaks so softly, I have to lean in to hear. “You’ll do well in the future. Take care of yourself?”

I smile, lacking the energy to invest in a lie. Nothing is in my control anymore. Certainly not my own well-being.

Yet, why are we whispering, as if all of this is some sort of secret?

on his high

he lies in the dark, on white stretcher sheets

his veins fill with blood, but his heart doesn’t beat

he lies in the dark, in a grim, shadowed room

visited only by Death, who arrived far too soon

he lived life indifferent, loved drugs and drink

(the young learn to drive far before they can think)

that’s why rubber burns as glass shatters around

the car bends and folds, as he’s thrown to the ground

and he won’t wake up, no, Death never gives in.

we might rage in battle, but Death always wins.

here he lies on a bed from which he’ll never rise

the boy in the dark, who crashed on his high