Nightly Revisions

At the end of the day, as I lie in my bed,

Three million thoughts collide in my head.

They argue and clash, contradicting each other,

I feel like a stranger in the mind of another.

Because such disharmony has never been ‘me’

I’m passionately naïve, light-hearted, carefree

I toss crumbs to birds, build snowmen outside,

Lie on the lawn and count clouds in the sky

But now I’m on fire — or, at least, in my head

I burn with regret for things left unsaid

I play my mistakes like a tape on repeat

I prey on my flaws; they’re pathetic and weak

There’s no room for error in my judgemental eye

Only perfection’s accepted — when I slip, people die

You see, my job doesn’t deal with bank loans or jewels,

Policies on paper or mechanical tools,

I am a doctor; I care for the sick

Try to ease suffering, make their recoveries quick

I cram my brain full of studies and charts

Schematics of lungs, brains, livers, and hearts

All for the chance that one day it means

Life over death for someone between

But sometimes I can’t help, or make poor decisions,

And it’s those thoughts that weigh in my nightly revisions

Not just about facts and knowledge and such

But about communication and caring, speech and touch,

I’ve had three million rules drilled into my head

Of words not to use, and what to say instead,

How to act, how to speak, how to think, how to breathe

And the best ways to put a frightened person at ease

Of course all of these are vital lessons to learn

A patient’s trust is something that has to be earned

But with all this practice of what to say, do, and be

Somewhere in its midst I’ve forgotten how to be me

It’s so artificial, this actress, this clone,

I follow commands like an sci-fi drone

I no longer build snowmen, and toss crumbs to birds

When I look at the clouds, it just feels absurd

Like a huge waste of time that I should be spending

Focusing on the sick on their road back to mending

There’s no time for rainbows or butterflies or fun

No point in it, too, not when there’s work to be done

They say I will ‘burn out’, but that seems naïve

When there’s so much to learn, do, say, know, be!

…and a coffin’s a heavy thing to rest on your heart

When somebody dies though you did more than your part

Yes, sometimes it’s inevitable, but that’s hard to accept,

And, as I lie there at nights, I see the dead coming back

They come in my dreams, and sit on my bed

As shame and regret parade through my head

Maybe one day I’ll fight them away, but for now,

I just let them be, for I do not know how

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Brave

It never ceases to amaze me: the courage of Hobbits.

’twas dark far too early, a midwinter’s night,

when I roamed down the sidewalk, my coat wrapped tight,

The sun had departed, but the moon ran behind

And, without either light, I walked around blind

Perhaps that made me conscious of the sounds of the night

Every creak, every rustle that would normally cause fright

But tonight things were calmer — a dry breeze in the air

Was the only sound lingering. Other than that, nothing there.

Or at least so I thought, until the murmur of words

Broke through the air, leaving the silence disturbed

I concentrated harder to determine the source

Of this lackluster humanoid air-driven force

And just by the lamplight, in the dim yellow light,

I spotted pure courage, in the midst of a fight:

Two lads and a lady, in full suit attire

Were discussing their…interviews(?) and what had transpired

I stepped a bit closer, for I was curious to hear

What strange undertakings had burdened those here

Why they dawdled without fear underneath the pale lamp’s light

And why they wandered courageously through a midwinter’s night

They spoke of far-off places, where I’d never been

A thousand distant cities of which I’d only dreamed

And in this idle manner they made lists in the snow

Pointing to the places they still had to go

And the hours which they spoke of keeping seemed inhumane to me

Was there no place better for these wanderers to be?

Yet there they stood, immaculate, immune to snow and cold,

Discussing conversation politics with fervent voices, bold

Discussing with finesse the minutiae unknown

About training to be a doctor, that no layperson knows

It was not too long after that I saw them moving on

Picking up their burdens and trudging bravely on

Onto new adventures in cities far away

Hoping one would pick them — one day soon, one day

Hoping to be selected for the noblest task of all

To care for others in deepest need, they’d found, in life, their call

And so they wandered through the midst of winter cold and ice

From place to place they fled and flew, a blur of day and nights

And that was when I realised that I’d seen no strength like it before

A final-year med student in the midst of their CaRMS tour

Running Blue

In and out of black he dreams

As he lies wrapped up in blues and greens

A sea of hospital blankets and gowns

A sea of cloth in which he drowns

As desperate nurses soak up the red

He’s bleeding out — that wound on his head

Is too big a gash to know how to treat

And then, just like that, his heart stops to beat

And then there’s a panic, they call a Code Blue

The grey-coated speakers vibrate in the room

White gloves are donned as they press on his chest

The sequence is clear; this is cardiac arrest

Copper is the colour of the meds in the vials

Brown are the eyes which blink in denial

When nothing starts working and the man stays dead

Even when he’s stopped bleeding from the wound on his head

Red are their eyes when you tell them the truth

You’re calm, though your body is dying to leave the room

Bad news is awful even without the guilt

Of feeling, somehow, that his blood you spilt

…orange is the candle they draw on the page

In the obituary section, where they write his name

But blue is the memory that stains in your mind

A code blue you couldn’t save — no, not this time

Black Magic

A black devil waltzes through Christmas décor

Bringing his filth to those he abhors

Turning off lights as bulbs flicker out

Relishing as partygoers shriek and shout

Despair is his mantra, all that he knows

He brings destruction wherever he goes

Lost love and relationships, memories that fade

Foul words and gestures, which start to abrade

Against nerves, against hearts, against minds slightly warped

His is a plot which none can thwart

And while some may frolic beneath Yuletide cheer

The Christmas Devil lurks, spreading hate and fear

A Stitch in Time

It was quarter past two, the crescent moon dim,

When I was called by the nurses to look after him

Both my legs were aching as I stood by his bed

Tears filled his eyes as he looked up, and said

Words I couldn’t hear, lost in the time

He had run out of, despite his efforts, and mine

We knew it was coming, naught left to do

Though he’d business unfinished, his time here was through

But I went through the motions, the masks and the meds,

Took all his vitals, and raised the head of the bed

Ordered the bloodwork, the x-rays, and scans

So automatic, I forgot he was a man

I called him a number, as I yelled through the phone,

Dialed specialists and his wife, who was still back at home

Asked for permission, for guidance, for help

Tried every type of BiPap mask on the shelf

But it wasn’t enough, and he grew worse,

I was trying to help, but seemed to have done the reverse

By the time help arrived, he no longer was breathing

And his wife stood beside, quietly weeping,

I guess that’s one way for a person to die

Is this blood on my hands? Whose fault is this? Mine?

Was there something else to do? Even now I don’t know

I found no comfort when they told me, “It was his time to go.”

It still somehow feels wrong, like I’ve committed a crime

It’s funny how things can change in one small stitch in time

No Vacancy

There’s no vacancy in heaven for travellers, tonight

Those lost in the firmament, wandering through starlight,

Their bodies are trapped in hospital beds

Fluorescent lights shine on unmoving heads

But their souls are on fire, and they’re far more alive

Than they can remember (at least, in recent time)

So why does each heartbeat take more time than the last?

And why does each breath start and end with a gasp?

Where are they wandering, so far from home?

Are there comrades-in-arms, or do they wander alone?

Maybe it’s pretty, with so much to sight-see,

That they’re forgotten those below, still on bended knees

Watching so expectantly for when the end will come

Will your last breath be tonight, or are you waiting for the sun?

Why does it take so long for you to search out heaven’s gates?

Or were you there all of this time, and simply have to wait?

Some say there’s nothing after death, but I’m not sure that I agree

If there’s no quota, queue, or wait, then why’s there no vacancy?

God’s Work

The light from my heart guides my hands on their way

I wake up every morning so thankful for the day

Because each step I take is blessed from above

Every breath that I take, a holy gift filled with love

Everything that I do now is truly heaven-blessed

By the grace of God I’ve learnt to balance life and death

And, through me, scales are tilted in accordance with their fate

Whether they will pull through, or whether we came too late

By day and night God guides me here; I’m a vessel he commands

He teaches me the healing arts I don’t quite understand

In the night I float through halls, my head a blurry fog

But I know that I’m not alone, because I walk with God

And it is such a privilege to finally realise

How peace or grief can be achieved by just how someone dies!

This blessed art I now dwell in is a dream I never dreamt

I’m amongst the luckiest in the world to whom this calling’s been sent

I only hope that I can do justice to the will of God

And live each day in humility, through the grace of heaven’s love

Eyes

His eyes were closed, but I opened them

Shined a light from the tip of my pen,

Closed them again, but they wouldn’t stay

I found myself trapped in his unseeing gaze

Pupils blown up as I’d not seen before

Cold, dark, and soulless; the pen dropped to the floor

Everything I knew flew out of my head

This is what it looked like, when someone was dead

His chest didn’t move, and his eyes didn’t blink

I tested his reflexes, but not so much as a wink

I tried for a pulse, but there was nothing at all

The nurse looked in: “There’s family to call.”

So I covered the man with a clean, white sheet

Walked out of the room, as my job was complete

The phone call was short, yet it somehow seemed longer

I was embarrassed to struggle; I’d thought I was stronger

I signed the all papers and initialed the charts,

Recorded the exact time when his heart had stopped

Went back upstairs, but didn’t make it two flights

When my heart started clawing, putting up its own fight,

Banging on its chest cage, trying to come out

No idea what it wanted, but it filled me with doubt

Had I done something wrong? Was there something I’d missed?

Did he pass as he wanted? Was it just as he’d wished?

I broke down crying, in the stairwell, alone

Fumbling with buttons I couldn’t see on my phone

Just to hear a voice, to hear them tell me it’s okay

Hear them say, don’t worry, it’s another hospital day

But my fingers weren’t working, so no voice appeared

And I turned to the wall to hide my face, full of tears,

Until I’d cried it out, when I turned to the steps,

Tried to go forward, but plunged back into the depths

Of darkness, despair; I was lost in a maze

Unfamiliar and scared, a frightening craze

How could I go on, with this burden of guilt?

It was as if I’d pulled a trigger, his blood I’d spilt

I knew it was nonsense, in the back of my head,

But nonsense is convincing, when the subject is death!

So I took a deep breath and tried to calm down

Forced away guilt; otherwise, I’d drown

I thought of my mother, who holds her head high,

She knows how it feels to watch someone die

But she never falters, she can stay strong

When others are lost, she helps them carry on

And then I thought of the others still in my care

And my teammates and students. They needed me there.

There’d be time for tears, but this wasn’t it

Get my head back in the game, had no time to just sit

So I ran back upstairs, only five minutes late

Rounds had just started; we were on bed #8

Thus my day continued, and I carried on

Forcing myself to, somehow, stay strong

This is the cycle, when somebody dies,

Stay strong, move on — and don’t look into their eyes

Angel of Death

Deep in the night, I float through the halls,

The Angel of Death, by some I am called,

My thoughts are a dream, and a misty gaze coats

Every glance, every look; the dim light turns morose

Wherever I go, death seems to follow

The bitterest truth, though it’s not easy to swallow

Deep in the bowels of a hospital ward

Or in my own bed, gripping the headboard,

I hear its soft growl as it prowls through the air

Seeking its prey, seeking to cause despair

Such is the life of my shadow, my friend,

My one true constant, a beloved life’s end.

So be wary of my presence, lest you yourself find

Your Life and Death inseparably intertwined

I don’t try to do it, but it’s a mistake I repeat

So run while you can, lest Death your presence seeks

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