Intensive Care Unit Blues
…Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter…
— T.S. Elliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
i. Pastel Star Chamber
are now briskly
by their brusque
bad vertebral disks
which prevent us
from being as frisky
as in our distant past — or
at much real COVID peril
although unlike balding me,
they may need to go for haircuts.
* just speaking for Gerry
ii. Patients Just Fading Away (haiku)
name image likeness.
iii. I See You In ICU…Do You See Me?
— thanks to Eliana V. Hempel M.D., Blood Ties, NEJM, 28May20
Distraught woman before us
with that hunted look
in her eyes seems all too familiar.
Filigreed monogrammed hankies
make repeated trips
from mouth to lap then back again
as our collective horror
at the rapidly increasing amount
of bright red froth intensifies.
She’s barely able to breathe
let alone talk rationally as metallic
smells mingle with Mom’s viral raw fear.
iv. C-Ward #17
— thanks to Silvia Castelletti, M.D., A Shift on the Front Line, NEJM, 4JJune20
Thursday. Just finished another shift.
Look me over in barber-shopoid cascading mirrors:
C on nose from doubled-up N95 masks
worn all the time and leaving deep marks
engraved by four overlapping elastic bands.
Eyes are tired. Hair damp with sweat. Oy.
I’m simply a physician no longer —
now also one unprepared soldier drafted to fight
against invisible Coronavirus blown in dirty wind.
Before frantic night-shift,
I have to don protective gear
which’s when get predictable adrenaline rush…
Earlier in on-call room with colleagues,
you try to crack bad jokes
but our bodies must reflect shared worry
regards shielding selves adequately
as we attempt to carry out correct steps dressing:
gloves, gown, second pair of gloves
glasses, cap, mask, visor, shoes, shoe covers…
tape over tape to keep everything sealed.
Persons who helps you dress
write name/ role on white lab coat
with a red marker because thusly-costumed,
no staff recognizes once familiar teammates.
After s/he says “Done,” it’s showtime to face the music.
Each caregiver feels like about to jump from humming plane,
hoping their very-complicated parachutes
will pretty-please open to keep us clean plus safe.
Entering is walking into some surreal silent bubble
with sounds muffled by mounds of heavy equipment.
For first ten or fifteen minutes can’t really visualize
since breathing fogs my visor
until it adapts to cooler ambient temperature.
Then gradually begin to see between droplets
of condensation, proceed into ward hoping shoe covers
won’t come off (as usual). Ninth shift so far this week starts.
v. Entering Dog Days of Summer 2020
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
Fifth month COVID,
I’m done crowing
about our crowning
of surviving tight sequester together.
What other friends, whose opinions
we respect, now say and choose
regards live for today …
will that influence how our family changes
its to-date awesomely coordinated precautions?
Given each branch has a different situation
with distinct needs for each grand/child,
there is an inevitability of clashes
among best practices plus risk thresholds
leading to very individualized eventual tradeoffs.
As weeks pass alongside this demonic warrior virus
…which keeps poking poking until penetrating yet another bastion
such as Beijing — yet won’t play ball to negotiate any armistice
— with only 5% of America’s herd infected so far, warning
is sadly heard we are all still in some proverbial second inning.
Yesterday one grandson rode a two-wheeler for the first time.
This Monday morning a second began to crawl.
Whereas a half year ago I likely could have been there in person
to witness, currently Bubby and Coach have to learn to be satisfied
to get a video; or consider breaking lockdown possibly unescapable?
Oy I was
so so sad
to put back
& potted plants;
‘cause that meant
we have depodded
from our daughter’s
brace of toddler boys.
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take ’til he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind — Bob Dylan
Pass your partner
shoulder to shoulder,
circle back, take a turn
then switch; sit round out –
breezy invisible COVID dances
proceed, infinite variations on theme.
Friday night, family that had been tight
Wednesday, (re)convened socially-distanced
in our backyard during cold windy June gloom
to maintain regular weekly Shabbat celebrations.
Toddlers’re strapped in chairs so don’t contaminate
elders, heaters get set, skull caps constantly blown off.
Although personally an atheist, I do successfully wrestle
content of prayers, which luckily a gruff Israeli son-in-law
sweetly chants in Hebrew so Coachie isn’t burdened by words.
It felt absolutely awesome being part of this four millennia lineage
of my Jewish people, often on the run or struggling with much worse
sorrow than cranky kids crying Challah! plus tired exasperated parents.
Saturday, day of rest, I unpack a rug shampooer, learn yet another new skill,
then begin Facetime circuits among six grandsons, reading to the youngest one
from Curious George’s Car Wash, where now we figure how to make toy conveyor
belts before Abba will take them through the real McCoy with windows rolled up all
the way in their own car, to a fourteen-year-old who wants me to critique draft of shtick
he presents tomorrow as co-chair of Los Angeles junior chapter of Climate Reality Project.
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind the answer is blowin’ in the wind. [Amen.]
About the Author
Gerard Sarnat won San Francisco Poetry’s 2020 Contest, the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for handfuls of 2021 and previous Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry is widely published including in Hong Kong Review, Tokyo Poetry Journal, Buddhist Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, Arkansas Review, Hamilton-Stone Review, Northampton Review, New Haven Poetry Institute, Texas Review, Vonnegut Journal, Brooklyn Review, San Francisco Magazine, Monterey Poetry Review, The Los Angeles Review, and The New York Times as well as by Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Penn, Chicago, and Columbia presses. He’s authored the collections Homeless Chronicles, Disputes, 17s, Melting the Ice King. Gerry is a physician who’s built and staffed clinics for the marginalized as well as a Stanford professor and healthcare CEO. Currently, he is devoting energy/ resources to deal with climate justice and serves on Climate Action Now’s board. Gerry’s been married since 1969 with three kids plus six grandsons and is looking forward to future granddaughters.