Oh rotting, feeble pancreas of mine,
Won’t you be my Valentine?
Won’t you wake from your long sleep
And make some insulin, you creep?
What makes you sit, all shaped like a wiener,
Lazy and dull, with a pompous demeanor?
What makes it okay, that for your enjoyment
You’ve spent twenty plus years filing unemployment?
We need to start over; we need to be friends.
We need this whole type 1 diabetes to end.
I’m tired of shots and I’m sick of the lows,
So I think we should talk about ending this row.
I could use a break, my corn-cob-shaped friend.
I’d love to have “old age” listed as my end.
I think that your time off has drawn to a close.
I’d like working islets, and plenty of those.
How ’bout it, old pal? Care to start working?
Care to start minding duties you’ve been shirking?
I promise to be an attentive best friend,
I’ll thank you each morning and as the day ends.
I won’t take for granted the hormone you make
And I’ll forgive you for the last 24 years’ mistake.
I’ve brought you some flowers and a Border’s gift card,
In hopes that when I bring milkshakes to the yard
You’ll be so inclined to jump start all those islets
Who’ve been holding their breath for so long that they’re violet.
So what do you say, oh pancreas of mine?
Won’t you be my Valentine?
I’ve written a few times about Veneta Masson, a nurse practitioner who wrote in Health Affairs and the Washington Post about her decision to forego further mammograms despite the fact that she was in a higher-risk category.
Veneta is also a poet. She sent me a video animation of her poem “Reference Range,” which I’m pleased to share with you. I think the poem and the video are beautiful, touching on important issues of how meaningless numbers and scores may be, subject to misinterpretation. She writes:
Art imitates life, and there’s nothing more hilarious than art imitating a woman in labor. I “stumbled” upon this incredible video and was in awe. Thea Monyee and her husband, GaKnew Rowel, are talented young poets who share their parenting experience at a Def Poetry session in Los Angeles.
What amazed me is the accuracy and clarity of Thea as she describes the laboring experience. Her comments regarding the labor-inducing medication Pitocin are both hilarious and laser-sharp and her description of the epidural placement were reminiscent of my days as an OB/GYN resident. Oh, would I get annoyed with the anesthesiology residents who couldn’t place the catheter correctly into a patient’s back on the first try.
Thea and her husband are a delight to watch. Have you had a similar experience while in labor? If so please share your stories, because as Thea and GaKnew so wisely state: “Nothing compares to having a baby.”
I’m diligently writing a detailed note in the patient’s chart as he speaks of his multiple concerns — severe depression, headaches, and dizziness. I’m not making good eye contact. Often this is effective because I can resist the allure of passively following his narrative to its own diagnostic suspicions. Instead I can record his intuitive guesses without persuasion, formulating my own independent ideas even as I value his. Except that as I write in his chart I notice streaks of red blood appearing among the black script. Am I hallucinating? Am I capable of making paper bleed? Am I, the doctor, bleeding?
With closer inspection I notice three small cuts on my chapped knuckles and fingers, products of the incessant and obsessive handwashing compelled by modern medicine. We are obliged to wash our hands before and after each patient contact, which leads to about 60 hand washings per day. In the dry winter air this can become punishing to the integrity of the skin barrier.
I apologize to the patient for marring his chart, yet it almost seems symbolic — physician blood spilled upon a script of human affliction. I know I should tear the page out of his chart and write a clean new one, yet the scrawls of black ink and stripes of red blood look like art. It is a poem, punctuated with living iron and crimson flourish. Despite having made poor eye contact in an attempt to distance and strengthen my consideration of his symptoms, ironically I see the commonality of our bleeding.
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