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Untitled For You

By Herbert Rosenbaum

For You - Our time together was brief but blessed

The soft whirring of the suction vacuum 
Fills the otherwise quiet room.
And the fluorescent light shines behind her bed and gives her
A glowing aura.

The end is particularly sobering
Especially as a soon-to-be practitioner of medicine
For I know all the signs and symptoms of death
Down to the molecular level it is instructed
And yet there is absolutely nothing to do
But wait.

I introduce myself
She raises her arm and waves her hand as if to say,
“Hello,”
Even though her random movements
Are just pathology of finality.

But do they have to be?

Is it such a travesty to pretend that she greeted me upon my entrance?
Call me a victim of denial, but I see life until one’s last breath
And it is so crazy to assume she welcomed me
Allowed me to sit at her bedside with her gesture?
Look, her curly hair has little pigtails!
Her fingernails are painted a red so vibrant! 

I can tell how much she is loved
Her family and friends sent the nicest cards.
And I remind her of that love.

If only she could speak, what might she say?
Would she tell me about her life? Her career? Her family?
Or perhaps just that the spot on her right leg is really itchy
And the gloves the nurses put on her hands are certainly not helping.

This one sided communication reminds me
She can hear my words.
With one corporal sense.
It allows our connection
As a Jew reads Psalms to a Christian woman
With a Bible found at her bedside
She can hear our similar tradition-
And she strokes my hand.

A soul lives inside.

It is believed our ability to hear is last lost in death.
How beautiful to live one’s entire life with the ability to listen!
If only we all appreciated this gift with all senses intact

I pray you forgave
The resident physician who spoke so callously
To you…at you…actually, it was above you to me
She forgot your humanity in your final days
I tried desperately to defend you from her apathy.

My dear, silent, fading friend
I promise we are not all like her.

Herbert B. Rosenbaum, M.D., Class of 2017, is a native of San Antonio, Texas, and an alumnus of The George Washington University. His medical interests include primary care, geriatric medicine, and end-of-life management, particularly hospice care. His poem "Untitled" defends the human essence of each and every patient while highlighting the importance of valuing individualized human dignity and empathy until their last breaths. This piece serves as an unabashed criticism of the status quo of American health care in its treatment, or lack thereof, of patients who are nearing their final moments. Mr. Rosenbaum urges his physician and medical student readers to start meaningfully addressing the elephant in the room (and perhaps American medical culture's biggest failure): death and dying.