Monday, November 28, 2011

Silence and safety

It's a cold, quiet night, and my current rotation has me on clinic, so I'm not anxiously awaiting the pager. So naturally I'm reflecting. The last nine years have changed me, as I related here, and I've achieved at least one dream in being a cardiology fellow. But tonight, I came across a poem by Sassoon that brought me back to my third year as a medical student, watching a patient die for the first time. The poem, which you should read (assuming I still have any readers, and you care) is called The Death Bed. The part that got to me is this:

Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated War; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?

But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.

It is perhaps an open secret that I did several of my medical school rotations in military hospitals, and the perspective I have on war is perhaps more visceral than that of most who haven't been in one. I've never been shot at, but seven years ago, I watched someone who had go through the lines above. It seemed pointless. I probably tried to write the poignancy of the scene, which happened literally minutes after the news station (filming a special on the soldier and his pregnant wife, carrying a baby he would never see) turned off the cameras and walked away. But I am not the writer he deserved. Sasson was.

I wonder what he accomplished. What he saw as the great purpose of his nearly two and a half decades of life. I realize that, as a modestly terrified med student on surgery, I knew far, far more about his vital signs than whatever it was that made him truly vital, truly human. But I wanted to lend him my will to live, nonetheless. I still do.

My last few posts talked about moving away from the direct experience of patients and more into management. I now know that process is what friends warned me against when saying "don't let them change you" as I shuffled off to yet another school that summer in 2003. The change creeps up without the changed noticing how great it is. But sometimes the realization breaks through and a refreshing of humanity comes back.

So it is good tonight to sit in silence, far away, and weep for a soldier.


linda.simons said...

Your blog is on my RSS reader so when you do update, I do read it. :-)

I'm doing pretty well. Being a grandmother is a great thing! My youngest finished his PhD this past year and hopes to begin his ophthalmology residency in July.

Blessings and may our Lord keep you safe.

Internal Optimist said...

Beautiful poem, thank you. I hope to keep hearing from you; its been a while!

Nurse and Hospital Stories said...

"But I wanted to lend him my will to live, nonetheless. I still do."

Ah,life and death are ironic yet they always compliment each other. Life is too short and death is inevitable. Just hoping that before our deaths, we may learn to know what is really our purpose for being alive.

Peny@discount uniforms

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The Angry Medic said...

Hey, it's me; I used to blog back in the early days of you blogging. If you ever start blogging again, drop by and I'll give you a shout-out. Sorry to see you go and take care.

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