Modern Trauma

Noah Rosenberg, SOM ’12

Grand Prize Winner 2011 Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award

The scalpel hangs in the muggy air above the patient’s skin,
waiting for the sounds of warfare to fill the operating room.
The patient, a young woman with a gunshot wound,
lies anesthetized upon the narrow leather table.
I stand with my palms crossed before my chest,
maintaining sterility, feigning piety.
Behind my surgical mask, stinging beads of sweat
cascade into my eyes, mercifully keeping me awake.
The surgeon keeps the O.R. sweltering—
“better for the patient, more like the Jungle!” He cries.
Though we are 9,000 miles and decades away from Viet Nam,
the surgeon cannot cut until the sounds of gunfire
and artillery issue from the O.R.’s speaker system.
These are the sounds of post-traumatic stress, I imagine.
As a crescendo of warfare fills the operating room,
the scalpel falls to meet the woman’s purplish skin.
On my right, Viet Cong shout messages about our position.
On my left, a mine is tripped, felling another patient.
As one patient rises, another plummets in his place.
In the middle of it all, the surgeon stands on a low riser,
peering over the open field of the patient’s abdomen.
He calls for a tool from the surgical tech, who obliges.
More from the circulating nurse, he commands,
less from the worried battalion leader waiting at the door.
Here, an artery spouts off cue, as he silences it
with one swoop of a tie and three turns of his wrist.
There, color—blood—returns to the patient’s vital organs.
In the middle of it all, works the trauma surgeon.
In a tarpaulin tent in the jungles of Viet Nam,
he works like a man conducting a symphony.
These are the sounds of lifesaving at work, I accept.