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