Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Birth – Groundswell – Greensleeves – Proud Flesh

Stacy Nigliazzo

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—


my fingertip,

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

in search

of a whispering heartbeat.

Her eyes, unraveled—

gathering tears of trepidation

and joy.




a ripple of sound—

slightly muffled at first,

then resonating,


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.

I wonder—

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?

Proud Flesh

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.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2010 – Volume 2, Issue 1
Winter 2010   |  Sections  |  Poetry

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