- The Physician’s Art
On Morning Rounds
a favorite patient collapses before youand as you struggle to catch him,your knees buckle,you kneel beside him on the floor.You hold him as part of him dies,as others who are dying there,but you walk away strongerfor having touched him.
Perhaps it is all they need:for you to fall a bitwhen they begin to falland to rise again with them.Sometimes it is what you need,to rise again from your own despair,to remember who you were onceand who you are.
Spread-eagled in full restraints,Donald Bates glares at me,a plastic tube in his throatconnecting with a Bennett respiratorwhose dials dictate his breathing.The lump under the skin of his chest,a Medtronic pacemakerclicking its seventy beats a minute. [End Page 34]
Each night they debate their total controlas he struggles to sleep—the respirator, heaving and sighingin a whish thump voicechallenging him to live without it;the electronic genius inside his chestboasting its rule over pump and flowto every organ needed to survive.
This morning he scribbleson a clipboard like a third-grade child,“Why are you doing this to me?”Outside the ccu his family waits.I avoid the clichés—they see in my eyesthe news they fear.In need of solitude I go hometo fix a doorknob in the kitchen.
4 West at the End of the Hall
More often now I wonderif for me death will be differentfrom what I have witnessedin a lifetime of doctoring?
I remember sitting at bedsidesin the sifted light of dawnwith men and women,hopes long gone,organs failed beyond repair,their faces an empty stare. [End Page 35]
It seemed that fears recededas time grew near,my care no longer needed.At the end, the spirit findsa way to comforttheir restless minds.
It all took place on 4 Westat the end of the hall.I would sit, holding a handslowly cooling. That was all. [End Page 36]
Henry Langhorne is a recently retired cardiologist and was poet laureate of Northwest Florida from 1999 to 2009. He will receive an M.F.A. degree from the Sewanee School of Letters in May 2016.