Keeping Memories

There we were–gathered around her in the ICU.
She had decided it was her time to stop fighting.

She didn’t have COVID, but almost all of our other
patients did. We had been working in the ICU for weeks.

In medical school, we were taught not to cry in front
of patients. But that day, we cried. We all cried.

Behind our masks, somehow, we had more permission.
The built-up emotion needed somewhere to go.

There was nothing else to do. There was nothing else to do,
but to be there, and cry. All of the other stuff we surround

ourselves with day-to-day, fell away. I want to remember
that feeling. I want to take it with me, wherever I go.

It needs a place to stay. Where can I give this grief a home?

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

One week into her ICU rotation this year, her ICU had been converted to COVID-only. It was an incredibly challenging time for her. “We’re used to being able to sit with our patients and be by their sides. Not only could we not do that, but there was no safe space for family members. I saw so many heroes–nurses and others–doing what they could to comfort patients. I don’t want to leave this story behind…it was a difficult time but somehow revealed what was most essential. It’s like I don’t have anywhere to put these experiences so I can remember them,” she said. She recounted one particular story from a time her team was caring for an older patient who had traumatic injuries that could probably have been treated, but the patient decided she didn’t want to pursue them. She had lived a long, beautiful life and was ready for it to end. This poem speaks to that story she recounted, and the emotion that was present not only for her, but for the entire team of providers. “I’d like the poem to be raw and honest–just like I felt that day,” she said.

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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