"Good Fathers"


"We were three men alone in a ward room built for fifty, dust film on the floor..."

Any Good Poem

Richard Berlin, MD, shares his poem "Good Fathers," which describes a moment of transformation in my professional development as he performed a lumbar puncture.

Good Fathers

-For James Daniels, M.D. (1938-2010)

We were three men alone in a ward room

built for fifty, dust film on the floor,

Dr. Daniels and I scrubbed and sterile,

gloved and gowned, standing behind the patient,

our only light drifting through the dirty

glass windows. I performed the prep—

Betadine soaked into a sponge, painting

orange circles on the patient’s back,

the room filled with the scent of young wine

poured too soon from the cask.

Week after week we practiced

on anonymous blue-collar vets,

everything ordered and routine until

that day Dr. Daniels pressed the needle deep

and failed to find the spot, four times, five,

finally giving up and passing it to me.

I can still see the angle of the shaft

when I pierced the patient’s skin,

the sundial shadow it cast on his back,

gold droplets of spinal fluid dripping

into a sterile tube, the look Dr. Daniels

flashed me, just like my father’s

that day he pulled over and handed me the keys.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 26 years in Psychiatric Times in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch.

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