F. Inge Faust
Veterans Affairs Health Care System, East Orange, New Jersey, United States
As from a surreal painting from long ago
Or a bizarre story by Henry Thoreau
A disquiet inside me begins to grow
That will repeatedly return—I know.
Spread before me is quite a scene:
An Asian man not too tall but lean.
He wears a gown that’s sparkling clean
And rubber gloves of the darkest green.
He stands behind such a table grand
Around him residents push to stand
All talking in a quite noisy way, and
Turn silent as he holds up his hand.
All eyes are now on Doctor Lowe
This pathologist speaks quite low
Of facts they all will need to know
Enabling their careers can grow.
Before him dried up organs spread
Arranged in order from groin to head
They’re not of plastic—I begin to dread
They’re from a human cadaver instead!
He holds up the aorta and says, “It’s OK.”
One resident says, “But it looks so gray.”
He responds, “That’s the fixation fluid’s way;
Besides it’s been out of body many a day.”
“The lymphatics’ large nodes show necrosis
And the heart’s coronaries atherosclerosis.
The large intestine reveals much fibrosis
But the liver and spleen are free of cirrhosis.”
The mesenteries to me look very strange
“Note how they’ve had a cancerous change!”
The lungs, well, they appear so deranged…
“Aspiration pneumonia’s shrunk their range.”
He held up a kidney in his right hand,
“Pyelonephritis has caused this black band.”
Urosepsis and tumors have taken their stand
And hastened the death that fate had planned.
“Now look! Just look at this prostate!
It’s the main cause of his final fate.”
Someone murmured, ”It looks like a dried date:
This poor guy was diagnosed much too late.”
The pathologist took off his gloves and his gown
And left the room with all standing ‘round.
For quite a while there was not even a sound,
Then everyone left for their clinical round.
Is this how I might end some final day—
My organs all shriveled and arranged this way—
A liver, a spleen, . . . on a stainless steel tray?
There’s no dignity left in such a display.
Poet's Statement: The enclosed poem expresses my feelings and impression of an autopsy I witnessed. This autopsy was performed on a 63-year-old man that was brought into the hospital by a friend who reported that the patient had become increasingly weak whereby he had fallen several times at home and was unable to get off the floor. Besides a generalized fatigue and weakness in his legs, the patient’s vision was deteriorating and he was no longer able to see effectively. Constipation had also become problematic with no bowel movement for the entire previous week and urination, at best, was slow and painful. The patient was admitted and died within 24 hours. A CT scan of his abdomen and pelvis after admission revealed an extensive conglomeration of retroperitoneal and bilateral iliac as well as inguinal mesenteric lymphadenopathy. Subsequently lymph node and bilateral mesenteric examination showed consistency with a diffuse large beta cell lymphoma and plasmacytoma as well as end-stage prostate cancer with metastases. The remains of this man and the story they told. . . that is how I know him.
F. Inge Faust provides primary and urgent care at the VAHCS in New Jersey. Here she has served both veterans and employees for the past twenty five years in addition precepting advanced practice nursing students in their clinical rotations. Prior to her career in healthcare, she was involved in research in biochemistry and alcohol addiction, as well as in an extensive teen pregnancy intervention study for Suffolk County, NY. She received her master of science in nursing from Columbia University of New York and her doctorate in the medical humanities from Drew University in Madison, NJ.