Art & Poetry in Medicine, Clinical, Featured, Internal Medicine
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To Mr. Jones

twenty-two nights you kept me awake. i counted
them last night, counted them as i lay on my bed with
eyes propped open, trying everything i could to
forget your wife’s — widow’s — face as we told
her the news that would shatter her picket-fence
dreams of a life after cancer, a candyland dream
world to the very end.
i know her well, know too well how her eyes blink
faster and voice deepens when something is wrong,
when we bring in monitors and masks to correct numbers
that she never learnt but somehow still understands.
twenty-two nights is a long time to get to know
someone. i’ve memorized every laugh line on your face, every
crow’s foot that crinkles when your breath turns
shallow, when i stare at your face to count
your breaths, my pulse racing with each pause,
wondering if i’ve just watched you
breathe your last.
rachel is a good wife; she loved — loves — you a
lot, loves you enough to sleep on the creaking
cot with the springs poking through the mattress
cover that the nurses found in the back storage closet on
the sixth floor, a remnant of a time before mine when
call rooms weren’t stocked with plush duvets and
downy pillows.
rachel wasn’t in the room when you slipped out. it
was just the two of us, my hand on your pulse, stethoscope
in my ears as i heard the tell-tale
swish-plunk, swish-plunk, swish…
…and silence. silence so loud it screamed in my ears and
nothing i said or did could break the silence, silence so
heavy it weighed on my chest and squished my own
breaths inside. the world tilted, and I felt the four cold
cream-coloured walls of the room pushing together against
my head just as rachel walked back in.
words failed me, just as they do in these pivotal, life-and-death
moments. how to tell her this, that her husband of forty-two
years, best friend, life partner, picket-fence co-owner slipped
out while i was standing right there.
we both cried for what felt like hours.
but life goes on for the living, and there were phone calls,
paperwork, phone calls, paperwork and nightmares that
have kept me up every night for the last three weeks straight.
i can still see the lines on your face that night, more relaxed
than i’ve ever seen them, right when i was despairing the most.
lines that kept me up twenty-two nights before the last.
we both know they’ll keep me up a lifetime more.

Beatrice Preti, MD Beatrice Preti, MD (5 Posts)

Fellow Physician Contributing Writer

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University

Beatrice Preti is a PGY-4 fellow in medical oncology at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University in London, Ontario.