I Remember

From the unpublished collection You Let Your Magic Tortoise Go.

Dedicated to Samuel Shem

with a CD4 = 0
and ring-enhancing lesions on his MRI
seizing the moment, in a bad way,
when Kenje was on call
this stick of a man
teetered on the brink of death
then stepped back into life
he told me how he was going to buy some weights
get his strength back
buy some new clothes
then he asked me if I would come to his funeral
overworked, scared, and guilty,
I said,

I'm sure he's been dead for years

I remember the old black guy

who had to urinate
he had cancer all over his body
because of his penile prosthesis
the nurse wouldn't start the foley
twice during the night I catheterized him
he was crying quietly
saying “I have to go, I have to go.”
4:37 AM
shoes still on, the nurse said I should hurry
he lay there dead
now, I mean now, while I am writing this, years later, now, I realize what he meant when he said, “I have to go.”
pronouncing him dead:

there is nothing like the hollow silence of the chest of the dead,

“yes, this man is dead”

then, telling the family them crying me feeling out of place and

I remember Larry,

stroked-out alcoholic at 40
always pulling out the NG tube
and hissing the only word I ever heard him utter,


I remember the young gay man, dying AIDS

and his partner
Smashing Pumpkins playing “Space boy” on
their tape player
now that song always reminds me of death

I remember the Latino, X-IVDA, current AIDS

and his infected wife
reverse isolation

I remember Maitreya's African-American man with AIDS

and CMV retinitis
I was never sure if he knew I was there
that he was in a hospital
that he was dying in the hospital while I was there
his eyes roamed, disconjugate
the first HIV+ blood I drew

I remember the fifty-year old stroked-out AA woman

whose blood I mingled with my own
through a needle stick
perhaps that is the source of my affliction...

I remember the Middle Eastern man with kidney failure

seeing granules of white on his chest
all I could think of was “uremic frost”
Dr. Troyer leans over
tastes his fingers,
“sugar!” he says
and I see the spilled sugar on his tray
he took a long time to die

I remember the young Latino alcoholic man

the foam coming out of his mouth
like a champagne bottle
he died quickly
I think he coded

I remember long days and longer nights I remember rage, sadness, and a

helpless feeling of being trapped I remember a dream about smashing a patient's head into the pavement

I remember a patient in the VA ER

tears running down his face
without any sign of emotion
I admitted him to the psych ward
that was definitely not normal

I remember the patient who I

was convinced would hit me
it seemed inevitable,
I was the doctor...
he was mad
I was the doctor
and I didn't know any better
I often remember saying to myself,
“I don't know any better.”

I remember being at home for Christmas

eating cereal
tears running down my face
without any sign of emotion

that was definitely not normal

Originally published in Body Electric, Journal of the Medical Humanities, Volume XV, University of Illinois Chicago | 1999