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. ❒