Those Eyes

by Jose Abad, SOM ’09

Honorable Mention 2009 Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award

[This is meant to be a spoken word poem, with emphasis described in brackets.]

He was a truck driver. He told me about how he had been all [held for seconds] around the country, from Maine to California. [quickly] She was a teacher. First grade.

They met in a bar in North Carolina. He was on leave from his duty for the Army. She was the bartender. They decided not to have any children and enjoy life together.

He was 54 and she [accented and extended] 50 years young.

[somber, serious, monotone]
Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. The mass in his belly was firm and the CT showed metastasis to the lung and liver.

How was I to know?

Today was the day.

The oncology attending was going to talk to the family. [pause] I knew it. [pause] My resident knew it. My patient was close to death.

[light-hearted]
That crisp autumn morning at dawn was beautiful as I walked from the student residence across from hospital to the oncology floor, [pause and somber] no the cancer floor.

The cancer floor was so quiet. Calm before the storm.

The sun was just starting to gain its strength as I went to check his vitals. I peeked inside to see his wife, sitting at his bedside, trying to sleep in those ungodly reclining hospital chairs.

I’m not going to disturb them. [in a pensive, retrospective tone] I want the attending to talk to them first.

[big pause, then dramatic]

Those eyes, those teary, tell me the truth eyes could no longer be held off by my words of encouragement. [falsetto] He’s not going to get better, is he? [pensive] How was I suppose to answer?

[pause]
Rounds as usual. [aloofly] Patient X is doing better, Patient Z ‘spiked’ a fever. [inquisitive] Is the hem/onc attending going to talk to my patient today? [surprised] Oh, there he is.

[slightly serious]
And just then, those eyes, those big eyes behind coke bottle glasses, staring past me, looking for an answer, saw her answer walking towards me.

[enthusiastic]
Room 304’s wife wanted to speak with you today. He’s the stage IV pancreatic cancer patient. We talked about increasing his pain meds yesterday.

[higher pitched male voice]
Oh yeah. Let’s have a talk with her.

[narrator voice]
She’s waiting outside the door.

[somber and serious]
Those eyes, [pause] now with low and stern brow, trying to decipher what my attending was saying.

[higher pitched male voice]
Let’s go to the family room.

[narrator voice]
No longer a walk existed than this procession to the corner conference room.

I entered first, [pause] mountain ranges in the distance, and the sun mustering enough to give a sliver of golden light onto the floor.

[higher pitched male voice]
Let’s sit down.

[pensive narrator]
We formed a triangle, each at a point, ready to exchange. I found myself almost ashamed to look at her.

[higher pitched male voice]
I wanted, we wanted, to talk about comfort today. It seems like we need to start talking about taking measures to ensure comfort.

[distressed woman’s voice]
Comfort? He’s breathing so hard. I can see he’s changing.

[pause]

[pensive female voice]
What does that mean? Oh, no tests anymore. No needles. No x-rays. No tubes. Just medication to keep him without pain.

[pause]
But he barely knows himself on those pain medications.

[pause]
I’ll do what you think is best, doctor.

[narrator with serious tone]
The order was written. A simple line.

Comfort measures only.

[pause]

[narrator]
The morphine and the dilaudid all flowed. Without saying much, we encouraged the use of a medication takes pain away, but also starts to convince the brain to take fewer breaths, slowly but surely, all while relieving pain.

[sober narrator]
Before I left, I looked into those eyes; those big, I-wonder-when-he’s-going-to-die eyes.

[female voice]
I was thinking about going home tonight to freshen up.

[elated narrator]
That’s a good idea, but I would be sure to sleep here tonight.

[pensive narrator]
How could I say it better? You might want to be here for your husbands death.

[narrator]
I slept light that night. Thinking, I hope he dies tonight.

[pause] Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.

I walked slowly to the oncology floor the next morning for rounds.

[narrator aghast]
My patient was still alive. I was sure he was going to die overnight. Wrong? How? I was so sure? He was on the brink. Can’t I see that? Doesn’t God know that?

[pause]

[narrator]
The day progressed as usual.

Getting off the elevator after lunch to check up on him. There she was. Those big round eyes, now dark with tears, waiting in exile.

[exhausted female]
We lost him.

[narrator]
I had hoped to avoid this. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know him better than anyone else. But it all came pouring out, like a veteran solider: I know he loved you, I’m so glad that he died peacefully, he’s in a better place now, watching over you. It felt fake, but I was acting. I knew it would be the first of many.

I paged my resident. Room 304 demised. You’ll be right up? For what? [lower tone] Oh.

[narrator faces opposite side of crowd]
Nurse, can I have a death packet please? Geez. No, can I have a packet of papers that means someone has died and I need to fill them out to prove to the world this man is dead.

[young female voice]
Have you done this before?

[narrator]
No. I’ve read about it.

[narrator ‘air’ rubs the sternum]
Mr. Humphries.

Mr. Humphries.

Mr. Humphries.

Cold. Already. So cold. Stiff. I placed my stethoscope on his chest. Nothing. The loudest silence I have ever heard. No [whisper] dun dunt, dun dunt, dun dunt. Just the sound of an empty void. He looked as if his spirit had been pulled from the center of his body, leaving his corpse splayed out, completely and utterly lifeless.

Immediate cause of death: Respiratory distress.

Length of time: 10 minutes.

Secondary cause of death: Pancreatic cancer.

Length of time: 6 months.

Sign here:

I knew I was a doctor at this moment. A man’s life, his entire life. The love of his life. All defined by a simple pen stroke of my wrist. No public announcement. No declaration. All but a simple two sentences defined this man now.

[pensive narrator]
And rounds continued. After three more death packets later that day I went home.

My lungs filled with fresh, cool air as I stepped out of the hospital towards my residence. Dusk was upon me. The fading light was pulling me closer and closer to my bed. I welcomed the solitude of dreams.

[pause]

Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with the…