stay

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stay, he said
when I asked
what he wanted

stay,
when I could do
nothing but provide
the most human things;
touch, eyes, and a voice
next to his bed

we spoke of irony,
how the disease
he studied
claimed him before 30

we spoke of love
before either of us
truly understood the definition
and in the second person;
book smart and life stupid
he labeled us both,
me with a biochemistry book
on the floor near his bed
studying for exams
on my lunch break,
a book he could have written

nothing in common
but that book,
those studies
& how we both breathed

but I stayed
& held his hand
until he slept
& then watched his sleep,
clouded and uneasy
with Ativan

unheard of to visit
a patient
off the clock,
the other staff murmuring
at our shared humanity
among the lights,
the beep of heartbeats
and charted vital signs

but, because he asked,
until sunrise
I was the thread
connecting him to exhausted flesh
until his family came

to finish watching him die

***Inspired by Unfettered BS today, her poem triggered a memory, going back 20 years now, when I sat with a patient until morning, long after my shift was over at the MICU; simply because he was not that much older than I, and because he asked me to stay.  This is for him, that young postdoc studying of all things leukemia, which is what killed him.  Here is a link to the poem that inspired this one.

http://unfetteredbs.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/goodbye-tizzy/

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31 thoughts on “stay

  1. The best caregivers are those with emotional resources and the strength to remain at a bedside past the end of a shift. As a culture we are so afraid and puzzled by death, thank you for staying with that young man years ago and giving us all this glimpse of those moments.

  2. Rhonda

    you helped lead that gentle soul where it needed to go, with love for a fellow human. proud to know you Susan, and not the least bit surprised. love you

  3. There is no greater kindness than to bear witness to someone ending a journey and beginning another. I did this for my dad and my mom and as heartbreaking as it was, it was the most love I could show. You did this for a patient – with respect and love and humanity. You are a wonder.

  4. Dear God, Susan, I could not do this today. I mean, yes, this is wonderfully written, but it leaves me in tears. There has been too much of parting in this life, too much of death and sorrow, and now for me to be so much in love, and to face this separation from my beloved … I am wounded beyond words. How immensely fragile is this life. We survive, yes, sometimes even thriving. But in the face of it all, how little endurance we have for those moments. Those shattering moments.

  5. very nice piece. certainly you are definitely connected to what you do. many in that realm are disconnected from it. i will say though, that ativan may be good in the very short term, it certainly is NOT in the long term.

    • Thanks, Don–one of the things I miss doing–did that while I was in college. Agree with you re.the Ativan–but would not have been an issue for this young man. I hate cancer.

      • i know what you mean about cancer. while i was in NC i found out that my brother’s wife had stage 4 colon cancer. one surgery so far and at present starting chemo. eventually a surgery to take out femme organs and put chemo inside her and close her up. i think that sounds right on tail end here. aggressive treatment plan.

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