Hear this person’s story pushing hard against its inevitable finale.
Allow the final phoneme to be a silence that drapes over the mechanical noise of your work — hiding it for an instant.
Realize there is resiliency in pause.
You are not a machine fine-tuned for a tunnel-vision view of the world.
Fight against the urge to ignore, block it out and forget. Fill the space with a soft and forgiving stillness.
Allow your mind to settle.
This is not about finding God.
This is about refinding Yourself.
This is about carving out a small hiatus
and to pay attention
to that moment that makes us all the same.
For now, completely different.
Either way, pay attention.
And then continue on.
I entered medical school captivated by fantasies of my inevitable collision with the human experience in its raw and exposed form during times of illness. I was (and still am) motivated by a desire to care for my patients in a deeply contextualized manner. I believe that the only way to provide effective care is to be compassionately attentive to each patient’s personal story.
This poem was written as a response to the collective stories of my fellow classmates as we enter the hospital and bear witness — often for the first time — to the deaths of our patients. It is a response to the first time that I performed chest compressions. She was a 77-year-old woman who coded during her stay in the intensive care unit. It is a response to my colleague who showed me the notebook he kept in his shirt pocket: on the page, he had simply written “07-19-19,” the date he witnessed his patient die. It is a response to my friend’s previous life as an ICU nurse whose work reminded him that death is so often a respite from the pain and suffering of illness.
“The Pause” is a call to action asking its readers to take a moment of reflection. To stop. To acknowledge the patients we care for as their stories extend beyond their final moment.
Image credit: Photograph of Bryce Canyon National Park courtesy of the author.