Carolyn Welch’s poem “Relapse” from Intima’s Spring 2018 issue speaks deafening volumes of how addiction can be in every corner of mundane family and home life. Especially in the context of America’s current opioid crisis, her poem does the hard work of showing the pain felt by parents in towns all over the country who have to make painful decisions in the hopes of their child’s recovery.Read More
“Birds of Prayer” is striking to me for the writer’s use of metaphor. I believe that both caregivers and the ill need metaphors. We especially need metaphors from nature. They reconnect us to a wider web of life where we can find some sense of belonging. They also give us distance. They help make sense of the senseless.Read More
I’m sorry to admit that during my own healthcare training, I was taught to carefully guard my feelings, to remain composed and “professional.” The thought of hugging a patient was considered too personal, too involved. Now, decades into my career, I have most definitely put that advice aside.Read More
There is something very special about the poem “Breast Unit” by Konstantina Georganta, published in the Spring 2014 issue of Intima. This poem examines nature, and the human experience, through the lens of undefined moments. It has an almost scrap-like quality, with pieces embedded and skillfully woven throughout the narrative. In a way, it’s the opposite to my poem “Anatomy in Nature”published in the Spring 2018 issue of Intima. These poems are like two sides of a single coin. While mine works to pull the inside out, finding reflections of the human body, its inner workings and organs, in plants and nature imagery, Georganta’s work pulls the outside in – relating nature to us by anthropomorphizing, humanizing.Read More
In her poem, “Writing Elegies Like Robert Hass”(Fall 2015 Intima), Jenny Qi wrestles eloquently with the death of her mother. She hooked me with the title, and she does American poet Robert Hass, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997, proud. This is not a sugarcoated remembrance but a wry and thoughtful, grateful and pained elegy. I assume the speaker is Qi herself.
She layers nuanced and conflicted emotions, recalling her mother’s bad habits, like scratching “bug bites until they bled,” being “petulant and stubborn,” or driving “too fast,” but also the traits that made her so endearing: She was “so greedy for living, so hasty with love.” Qi wants to remember her mother’s generous and genuine qualities, but then in the chilling final stanza recounts the burden she still carries over how her mother died. The poem transitions seamlessly between all the unsorted, colliding feelings, before it leaves us with a closing heartbreak.
For years, I tried to write poems about my brother’s death. Over time I found the memories slipped away yet, paradoxically, a clearer picture of him began to emerge. I wrote about discovering who he was in the poem, “After A Year in Hospitals,” aware that we, the living, may perhaps be reinventing the persons who can no longer speak for themselves. Although, in this poem, I did not include my own misgivings over the way my brother died, I relate very strongly to the way Qi vividly describes her torment over her mother’s last moments.
Description alone cannot do her poem justice. It needs to be read in its entirety to experience the impact. Reading Qi’s poem reminds me that poetry has the power to evoke, through concrete images and masterfully chosen words, an empathic emotional state.
Alida Rol practiced as an OBGYN physician for many years. She holds an MFA in writing from Pacific University. Her poems and essays have won several awards and have appeared in Rhino, Passager, The Examined Life, Nasty Women Poets Anthology, and Hektoen International, among others. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. Her poem, "After a Year in Hospitals" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.
The Irish poet Eamon Grennan said, “I think poets are string theorists in some ways. They are trying to bring the macro and the micro constantly into a single focus.”
Few experiences focus human life and practice more, than advanced illness or the impending death of a family member. Susan Sample's poem "Indigo" (Intima, Spring 2014) succeeds in capturing the weight and span of such an experience.
It begins in water, on a raft, with a rowed backstroke, the strong pull in the poet's chest alone beneath pale clouds and looming cliffs, cut through with dark swaths / of coal. Then, it moves to the marbled linoleum undercurrent of a hospital floor, worn through / on the threshold of patient rooms, and a dark lung mass on the X-ray of the poet's friend, the iced absence of breast another swath. Onward, in the less silent chemo suite, we're surrounded by everyday tragedies of pic lines, Hickmans and ports, and the poet's father's slow drip, as it clicks like an aperture set for a long exposure: / one sleeve of his favorite fleece rolled up. The cobalt blue of his sleeve colors the poem, as does the weighted blue of the bowl / he ate cereal from as a boy that I found on the shelf / of his apartment this morning.
Amidst the poem's heaviness, a thread runs through it like a hope, pulling and holding together body and earth, deep grief and sunlight, the particular and the universal. It runs dark and inexorable, like water, like veins through rock, like an intravenous line into a loved one. But it also runs like the sky blue yarn joining a hundred tiny squares in a quilt that a nurse pulls for the poet's father from a woven basket.
Like Susan Sample, I too write poems from life looking into the uncharted fathoms of aging parents. How do we, who strive enough every day to help strangers through pain, disintegration and dying, attend to our own ill and aging without drowning, without growing dangerously benumbed or isolated?
Poetry answers this question in its revelation of patterns, of countless connecting threads, in its refusal to disregard the details of every day and its insistence on homing them in whole people, families, culture and nature. Poetry is a healing practice, because it is a homing practice. My poem "At the Green Burial Informational Luncheon" (Intima, Spring 2018) aims to bring home the death of my mother.
Ingrid Andersson is a full-time midwife and poet in Madison, WI. She is completing her first collection of poetry, entitled, Down the Female Ages. Her writing has appeared in The Progressive magazine, About Place journal, Midwest Review and Wisconsin Poets' Calendar. Her poem "At the Green Burial Informational Luncheon" appeared in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
In Rachel Betesh’s poem “Admission Assessment” that appeared in the Fall 2014 Intima, the doctor observes a patient, finding the words to describe both his condition and her understanding of his experiences. She listens well, using precise language. Her first observation is visual, she sees his posture, but almost immediately that awareness is paired with hearing his breathing. She says:
so measured these breaths break: shallow
like rainwater with nowhere to settle:
he parcels air; he can’t give it away.
Breath as a parcel, a package that can’t be given away. Breath is precious and difficult simultaneously. As a reader I am pulled into a field of empathy; the doctor trying to understand her experience of the man. She listens acutely to his “ragged song of breathing.” and “the natural sweetness of the body / reduced to laboring: an immeasurable effort,…”
The doctor listens to what is being said as well as what is not being said. She hears his breathing and his words. He “cradles” his hand, the size of a grapefruit, and says, “now it’s everyplace, / and the air seeps and sings out, out without measure.”
She thinks his words are the most salient reason for hospitalization and should be in her assessment: “now it’s everyplace.”
The doctor is aware that not everything can be seen, that this hand is the most visible aspect of his cancer; but she knows it is in his kidneys as well.
I am reminded of William Osler’s words of wisdom to his medical students at Johns Hopkins, “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”
What can’t be seen is often true in autoimmune diseases as well. Listening to a patient describe the experience of his or her body might help a doctor find a diagnosis, but not always. My poem, “The Body Lives Its Undoing” (Spring 2018), speaks to this experience. Initially I use the words koyaanisqatsi and uggianaqtu from Native people’s languages that speak directly to a “life out of balance,” to the body “behaving strangely.” Then, I try to enact the feelings of the patient through the sounds of words: cawing, cacophony, clattering; hard ‘c’ sounds that cut, which lead to the image of chaos.
How to let others know the internal feeling of an autoimmune disease. Not only the sounds of feelings, but in images such as “cascading through flames / joints and muscles dragging like a loose muffler on asphalt” that try to portray the feelings of exhaustion and inflammation that come with most autoimmune diseases.
The patient in my poem wants to find balance, knows she is “listing” in a “turbulent sea” with disease, but wants to navigate it with “…my hand on the tiller.”
Listening with eyes, ears and an open heart and mind is what most patients want and need, even if there is no definitive diagnosis, treatment or cure. Hearing their words and giving attention creates empathy, which goes a long way towards healing and helps the patient deal with the ups and downs of a disease.
Suzanne Edison MA, MFA, writes most often about the intersection of illness, healing, medicine and art. She has a child living with Juvenile Myositis. Her chapbook, The Moth Eaten World, was published by Finishing Line Press. She has been awarded grants from Artist Trust; Seattle City Artists, and 4Culture of King County, Seattle. Poems are forthcoming in About Place Journal; Other poetry can be found in: JAMA; SWWIM; What Rough Beast; Bombay Gin; The Naugatuck River Review; The Ekphrastic Review; and in several anthologies including The Healing Art of Writing, Volume One. She is a board member of the Cure JM Foundation and teaches writing workshops at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Richard Hugo House in Seattle. www.seedison.com. Her poem "The Body Lives Its Undoing" appears in the Spring 2018 Intima.
I lost a patient last week. This is not unexpected in the world of family practice. I have lost countless patients. During most of my career in pediatric intensive care, however, I lost them dramatically. They departed with fight and drama, chest compressions and epinephrine, and intensity. This patient left quietly, succumbing to congestive heart failure. He came in every week or two with waterlogged ankles and lungs when he forgot to take his meds. He missed his wife. He lingered to talk. His going was like the tide shifting in Ron Lands' poem “Listen to the Ocean.” Some other shore was calling him.
There are moments when we notice the breath is like the ocean rising and falling or like Lands' “moonlight floating on the water.” My own daughter’s battle with schizophrenia is teaching me the tending of good days, the collecting of moments.
Last summer, as I watered the garden, a hummingbird flew close, dipped in and out of the spray—his thirst and my offering meeting there on a hot uneventful day in July. Diana calls on good days between relapses. Lands' patient or father or mother labors to breathe until reminded of the light and the water. Waves bring what they have and take what they find. Lands' voice eases his listener from one moment to the next.
My patient’s death leaves a gap in the schedule, an unfilled prescription, a message from his son. And we go on. This smallness of death is part of its tragedy to those of us working close to it, but also when it visits our lives. The room get cleaned, the bills arrive, the dogs whimper for their supper. Some of us write poems in an effort to translate our experience and to tend to these moments of being.
Carolyn Welch worked for many years as a pediatric intensive care nurse and currently works as a family nurse practitioner. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Carolyn’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, Sundog, Tar River Poetry, Conduit, Connecticut River Review, High Desert Journal, The Southeast Review, Zone 3, The Minnesota Review, American Journal of Nursing and other literary journals. Her poetry collection, The Garden of Fragile Being, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her poem "Relapse" is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine
Hands are among the most expressive parts of the body, connected as they are with gestures of tenderness and violence. They caress and slap. They hold instruments, surgical or musical. They cradle weapons. Hands signal affection, distrust, anger.
They are conduits for ideas traveling from brain to language. They articulate the gap between thought and word. Before speech, hands gave shape to hunger and fear. They warn of danger. Handprints on cave walls are signatures or ancient algorithms linking past to future.
Hands mend wounds. Translucent hands hover like birds over an unseen patient, light radiating from the center of the image, while all the hands weave back and forth stitching skin to skin.
Heart line, head line, relationship line. Hands can be read like poems. Decipher the line on a palm to understand your life. What about memory lines. I think of my father’s hands struggling to attach dry fly to tippet. I remember stroking my mother’s veiny hands in the hospital as she died. My hands have cupped fireflies and embraced cigarettes. They plunged into the Sound on summer nights, pushing into dark water as plankton streamed tendrils of light through my fingers.
Hands give and take. I am here, say the hands. Look and listen.
Pamela Hart is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art where she teaches and manages the Museum’s Thinking Through the Arts program. Rowan Ricardo Phillips selected her book, Mothers Over Nangarhar, for the 2017 Kathryn A. Morton Prize; it will be published in 2019 by Sarabande Books. She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship. She received the Brian Turner Literary Arts prize and her poems have been published in the Southern Humanities Review, Bellevue Literary Review and elsewhere. Toadlily Press published her chapbook, The End of the Body. She is poetry editor for the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and for As You Were: The Military Review. Her poem "Dorothy's Hands" is in the Spring 2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine
In my pre-poet life using creative arts therapies with adult and pediatric cancer patients, and later, with family and friends, I was honored to attend many “good” deaths. My personal debt to hospice caregivers became immeasurable – the support they give to the dying and to survivors, how they taught me to carve my own grief.Read More
A year ago, a half-dozen older women gathered in a church fellowship hall. The coffee percolated as copies of “All the Girls Were There, and Gorgeous,” a poem by Carlene Kucharczyk in the Spring 2017 issue of Intima, were passed around our circle of chairs. As facilitator of this narrative healthcare workshop, I read the poem out loud. The gas logs hummed for a moment in the silent room. I was about to launch into questions specific to Kucharczyk’s remarkable poem when this participant spoke, quietly yet clearly: “Do you think it would be easier to have Alzheimer’s or ALS?”
A year later, her question came back to me and I wrote my little story, “Cups and Such,” not as an answer, but to continue the conversation.
Her question proposes a binary. In some ways, “Cups and Such” is the mirror opposite of Kucharczyk’s poem – a woman awake in her life, though / she doesn’t know it compared to a man fully aware of the betrayal by his body. But both poem and story deal with the same haunting theme: What is our relationship to our past? Memories flit and flash in and out of our consciousness like fireflies. Is hindsight really 20-20? Or, is it that we are continually revising our story to make meaning? “Revision” means to look again; etymologically, so does “respect.”
Skilled poets, like Kucharczyk, write with clarity yet focused ambiguity, thereby asking readers to look again and again for interpretations. We read and continue the conversation. A year later, I remember how the workshop participants were divided as to the moral character of the narrator: We do not like to visit her, / I hope she does not know. Was the narrator a “good granddaughter” or not? What is expected of us when a family member has a terminal disease? Could it be that the way the sick perceive us changes, say, from a bright shining face to the appearance of a moon? Is that cold and distant? Or, could the transformation be a natural reflection of a previous light?
And I still wonder, in Kucharczyk’s words, about the part that is elsewhere. Time is not linear. Perhaps there are moments, even in pain (whether physical or emotional or spiritual), when all the girls are gorgeous, when all is whole again and saved.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman earned a certificate in Narrative Healthcare from the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative through Lenoir-Rhyne University. His recent essays have been published online at Mockingbird (http://www.mbird.com) and his poetry at Bearings (https://collegevilleinstitute.org/bearings). He is a Presbyterian pastor serving a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He and his wife have three children. His story “Cups and Such” appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
In this Crossroads blog, poet Catherine Klatzker reflects on another poet's work in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
the lyrical dancer withinRead More
This is a blog about Intima and narrative medicine in general and all that we can read and absorb from this excellent online journal. Every issue grabs my attention for the poetry, articles and the blogs that respond to other people’s work.
My poem "Exchange" was written after my son came home from working in the Far East. He brought with him a girlfriend who had also been working with him for the British Council. Poom was Thai. We had never met before and they arrived in the evening. She was exhausted from the long flight. I had prepared a meal and over supper, a nurturing and nourishing time and good time to talk with new and old friends. She told me that her father had died and she was still very sad. We had candles on the table but we lit another one for her father and placed it in an important position near the flowers that seem to symbolize new growth, new seasons.
Then Poom started to tell us that she had had Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a syndrome I had never heard of. But as she told us her story another narrative emerged, the emotional need to now pass on the story. This for me is what narrative medicine is all about. It’s telling our stories to a health professional who can understand what is going on for us emotionally, intellectually and physically. Poom felt, at this supper in a country she didn’t know, not long after her father’s death and this dreadful illness, that she needed to talk about it and try and rid the experience from her mind in a strange country. This was her narrative being told right now.
I was very struck by the wisdom in Vivian Lam’s Crossroad's essay "This Game We Play Called Dying." Even dying has a narrative for each individual although by the time we are in the clutches of death we may be too ill, too sick, to tell our story to anyone. So it is the people who care for us who have to interpret our story at this stage of our lives. Hence the need, as Vivian Lam says, to be able to know whether or not the dying person wants someone with him/her now or whether she/he’d rather take the final steps alone. Therefore it is the responsibility (and I mean responsibility) of the nearest person to the dying to have found out this part of the narrative while it is possible to do so. This may be the health professional who cares and treats the dying with compassion. Dying is the final and may be the most important part of the narrative.
Wendy French is a poet, whose latest collection of poems is Thinks Itself A Hawk (Hippocrates, 2016). Her collaboration with Jane Kirwan resulted in the book Born in the NHS (Hippocrates, 2013). She won the Hippocrates Poetry and Medicine prize for the NHS section in 2010 and was awarded second prize in 2011. She has worked for the past twenty years in healthcare settings. She was Poet in Residence at the UCH Macmillan Centre from April 2015-2016 and this year will be working with patients/caregivers on writing memoirs. She is one of six poets invited to Bucharest to work with MA students on translations of their novels into English. She currently is writing poems to celebrate Waterloo Bridge.
The mechanical properties of the heart are well understood. Tricuspid valve calcification may lead to stenosis, resulting in myocardial hypertrophy and decreased cardiac output. On the other end of the spectrum, mitral valve prolapse may lead to eventual mitral regurgitation. Eventually, chronic tendinous injury to the chordae tendineae attaching the valve to the papillary muscles may occur, producing a flail leaflet. It is simple: the heart strings produce the music of harmony.
But what of discord? What of when the harmony fails us?Read More
We are often powerless in the face of death or illness to do much besides watch; we are forced to recognize “the uselessness of love to give her breath.” This feeling of helplessness we experience, both as physicians and as caretakers, forces us to reevaluate the way we understand ourselves and the purpose behind the role we play as a family member or a healthcare provider.Read More