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House Calls, Rounds, and Healings: A Poetry CasebookHouse Calls, Rounds, and Healings: A Poetry Casebook

Fighting Bare-Handed
By David Schiedermayer, MD


Last night, Saturday night
I fought death bare-handed
in and over the body
of a 61 year-old man
with liver and kidney failure
which started and worsened
after his back surgery.
I had a bad feeling at about 6 pm,
looking at his 4 pm labs,
so I went to his room and found him
barely breathing. Breathing once
or maybe twice a minute.
So I sat by his bed
and I begged him to breathe
I pinched his toes when he stopped.
Once, when he had stopped for a minute,
and I am not proud of this,
but it is just true,
I rubbed my bare knuckles right across
the staples on his abdomen
(they had operated his back from both
the back and the front to fix the bones)
and he woke up with a start
and a grimace
and said, "what do you want me to do?"
And knowing how death was possessing him,
I said "Breathe!" to him, not to death,
and he took a big breath before he
fell back to sleep.
And so I kept him alive until we could
move him down to the ICU, waited with him
for an hour in that quiet room at the very end
of the orthopedics unit, just me and him and death,
me pinching him every minute
death quietly creeping in and through
I pinched him and shook him
and used Narcan to fight the morphine
so he would have a chance to breathe
And when I went home
I laughed a little as I walked across the driveway
I skipped up the steps
because
in the ICU they were giving him all kinds of medicine
and putting in all kinds of lines
but me
I guess I really do
like a good bare-knuckled fight on a Saturday night.
©2001 Galen Press, Ltd., Tucson, AZ

 

Copyright 2001-2013 Galen Press, Ltd.