Veterans Affairs Health Care System, East Orange, New Jersey, United States (Summer 2012)
Poet’s statement: This poem expresses my feelings and impression of an autopsy report I witnessed. This autopsy was performed on a 63-year-old man that was admitted and died within 24 hours. The remains of this man and the story they told . . . that is how I know him.
Like a Dali painting from long ago
Or a phantasmagoric story by Edgar Poe
An anxiety inside me has begun to grow
That will return forever—I surely know.Spread before me is an eye-catching scene:
An Asian man not too tall but quite lean.
He wears a gown that’s so sparkling clean
And rubber gloves of the darkest green.He stands behind such a table grand
Around which residents push to stand
All talking in a quite noisy way, and
Turn silent as he raises his gloved hand.Anticipation begins to rapidly grow
As he poises to speak with a very low
Voice that all ears strain to hear, to know
The wisdom that now will begin to flow.Before him dried organs are laying spread
Arranged in correct order from torso to head
They’re not made of plastic—I fear and dread—
But from a genuine human cadaver instead.He holds up the aorta and declares, “It’s OK.”
One resident says, “But it looks so gray.”
He responds, “It’s the fixation fluid’s way;
Besides it’s been removed since many a day.”“The lymphatic nodes show gross necrosis
And the heart’s coronaries atherosclerosis.
The large intestine reveals much fibrosis
But the liver and spleen are free of cirrhosis.”
We see the mesenteries appear deranged—
He held up a kidney in his right hand,
“Now look, and note this singular prostate,
The pathologist took off his gloves and gown
Is this how I’ll appear some frightful day—
Photography by Optoscalpel
F. INGE FAUST, MSN, FNP-C, DMH is a nurse practitioner providing primary and urgent care at the Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VAHCS) in New Jersey. Here she has served both veterans and employees for the past 20 years in addition to instructing advanced practice nursing students in their clinical rotations. She received her master’s of science in nursing from Columbia University of New York and her doctorate in the medical humanities from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Prior to her career in health care, she was involved in research in biochemistry and alcohol addiction, as well as in an extensive teen pregnancy intervention study for Suffolk County, New York.