Listening to Dead Patients

December 13, 2018
Richard M. Berlin, MD

Volume 35, Issue 12

They love to talk like air traffic controllers: “Angle the spinal needle 20 degrees and push gently toward the midline.” And though I don’t say “Roger”...

 

They love to talk like air traffic controllers:

“Angle the spinal needle 20 degrees

and push gently toward the midline.”

And though I don’t say “Roger” or

“I copy that” loud enough for patients

to hear, that’s what I whisper to the dead.

Sometimes they tease me about mistakes

I’ve made- pneumonia I called heart failure,

thyroid disease I diagnosed as depression.

They niggle me about lab tests I forgot

to order, forms sent without signatures,

all the phone calls waiting to be returned.

Their voices are the hum I hear at night

and at dawn’s first light. Rarely,

they are kind enough to praise my skill

or allow me to take pleasure in my work.

But all my dead patients love to laugh

and remind me, no matter what I do,

I will join them all too soon.

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