Poet’s statement: Writing has always been a great source of comfort and healing for me. I find that as a nurse, my patients stay with me long after I have provided care. In an emergency setting, healthcare professionals are privy to the full spectrum of suffering and recovery. The pieces I have offered here are a testament to this fact. Whether assessing a pregnant abdomen for signs of fetal life, dressing debilitating burn wounds or providing warming therapy in the case of severe hypothermia, each patient leaves an indelible impression. Putting their stories into words allows me to remember the lessons they have taught me, and to keep them with me, always.
The ubiquitous nature of bacteria,
we hope to demonstrate,
using sterile cotton swabs
and flowing blocks of agar—
thickly gray and gelatinous,
poured in rigid plastic plates—
ripe for inoculation.
We tear away each swab’s thin paper sleeve,
sliding the soft tips across the contents
of the room, and then
across the prepared medium—
the door handle and the lab desk,
reference books and microscope—
and the fluid curve
of my climbing collarbone.
After three days, we observe
the following results:
lush, plentiful gardens
through the teeming plates—
swelling green and yellow spirals
in the viscous soil,
Watering green ribbons
my hands across
her gravid flesh
like flowering branches, ripe
against the glaring sun—
Doppler dowsing a fluid path
of a whispering heartbeat.
Her eyes, unraveled—
gathering tears of trepidation
a ripple of sound—
slightly muffled at first,
like spring rain
over a swelling riverbed—
Fetal heart tones detected,
Lower left abdominal quadrant:
167 beats per minute.
My breath spins fleeting white,
drawing near the icy blanket of blue flesh
found amongst the sleeting rain
and snow flurries—
uncommon for this time of year.
The quivering fist of her heart
unfurled in faint submission.
who will seek to find her pressed beneath
stark sheets and warming blankets?
My fingertip tracing the faded scar that paints
her frigid abdomen—the hallmark
of a child’s passage from her body
into its own—
who has loved her?
White sleeves of winding gauze
against her skin—
she arrives in a taxi,
having pre-medicated with Fentanyl.
The doctors say she is lucky—
no central heat in her apartment,
boiling water on a hot plate to fill
her porcelain bath—
only her arms engulfed when the kitchen caught fire.
Silver shears through sullied swathe
unloose a wellspring
snared beneath a web of silvadine and kerlix—
tears of sanguine flesh quietly weeping,
spilling over sloughing eschar
and budding granulation tissue.
STACY NIGLIAZZO is an ER nurse who has written prose and poetry since childhood. Her work has been featured in the American Journal of Nursing, the Annals of Internal Medicine, the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Pulse, Blood and Thunder and the International Journal of Healthcare and Humanities. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University and a recipient of the 2006 Elsevier Award for Nursing Excellence.