James O. Ballard
Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA
Poet’s statement: Those of us who care for patients at the end of life realize the importance of closure (i.e., the settling of unfinished business, misunderstandings, and disputes between patients and their families and friends before death). This poem begins and ends with images of an early December day seen from the window of a patient’s room in the ICU. The woman on life support was dying from complications of treatment for cancer. She had separated from her husband after the death of their son in Iraq. The poem depicts the tragedy of a dying patient unable to speak and her estranged husband arriving too late—both denied the opportunity to attempt reconciliation.
Late fall’s sun pierces gray clouds and glass,
A machine with muffled whoosh
High up he flies, summoned at three by worried news
The elevator ping announces its cargo:
The incandescent room is now too still:
Outside, brown leaves float unmoored,
JAMES O. BALLARD, MD is professor of medicine, pathology, and humanities and holder of the Doctors Kienle Chair for Humane Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine. For 35 years he has been a faculty member at the Penn State College of Medicine where he teaches hematology and medical humanities, and serves as attending physician on the clinical hematology service of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Since 1989, he has implemented programs focused on end-of-life care practice and education at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine.