What Lets Us Breathe Easier

"You’re a poet, aren’t you?"

Richard Berlin, MD, shares one of his poems, "What a Dying Woman Saw."

What a Dying Woman Saw

She was clear-eyed and dying

when I knew her, soft breaths feathering

from her chest like distant smoke,

face bleached white as burnt out sky.

Propped in a chair, oxygen prongs pulled

to her neck, she commanded like a queen

for morphine, lobster, a second phone,

her mind still ruling an 80 pound body.

She allowed me to sit at the foot

of her bed like a commoner, let me ask

the details of lineage and disease,

revealed the smothering-fear in her dream.

And on the last morning, when I’d suctioned

dark secretions, she wheezed,

You’re a poet, aren’t you?

That was before I thought to write

more than a patient’s history in a chart,

before I knew what lets us breathe easier,

before their stories engraved me like stone.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 23 years in Psychiatric TimesTM in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA.