I Cursed Him

Psychiatric Times, Vol 39, Issue 5,

POETRY OF THE TIMES

when his patients washed up

in our ER like crushed plastic bottles

on a beach, cursed him for the way

he used our staff to cover his neglect,

cursed his answering machine message,

cursed him for never returning my calls,

cursed strange med combinations

he prescribed in extravagant doses

with brutal side effects, cursed him

until he was scheduled for discipline

from our Chief and the morning news

broke his story: prescription fraud,

drug use, money laundering, and sex

with patients, his life good for a dime

at Walpole. And I forgot him for thirty years

until his obit appeared in today’s paper,

a redemption story without mention

of his past convictions, a man who

settled out west, worked the shelters,

and became “Mayor of the Streets,”

a generous man loved for his laughter.

My mind screams, Sociopath! Liar!

but I know he’s gone, and after an hour

I feel my heart slow toward forgiveness,

remembering patients as cursed

as my colleague, patients who grew

during treatment when we unearthed

strengths embedded in their suffering.

I know I’ll never learn how he healed –

a sponsor, sobriety, religion, friends,

a lover, and perhaps a good psychiatrist

who didn’t judge him and offered hope?

Ten thousand patients behind me.

The same stunning lesson every hour:

we can change. I take a deep breath.

I curse my forgetting.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 24 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. ❒