Archive for June, 2014

Amalgamation

Overhead, playing bump tag,
clouds collide
but never do adhere,
their silvery
undersides riding low.
Umbrellas open
but sunglasses stay on
as sunshine slips
through disjointed seams.

The weatherman blandly
described it as
a fleeting sunshower.
I’m old enough
though to still recollect
a livelier depiction,
having grown up when
the Old World
overlapped with the New.

An uncle made the assertion
a fox and bear
were getting married.
Grandma said,
look Child; the devil is
beating his wife.
Language, light, and rain–
each drop a diamond
forged in that amalgamation.

Five Days At Memorial : Life And Death In A Storm-Ravaged Hospital / Sheri Fink

On Sunday, August 28, 2005, Katrina, a Category Five hurricane came ashore near the city of New Orleans. While an evacuation order was issued shortly before Katrina hit, most of the city’s poor had no means to escape the fury of the storm. Hospitals were exempt from the evacuation order, and Sheri Fink takes the reader inside Memorial Medical Center to reconstruct the events of the five days following the hurricane when the facility was, for the most part, cut off from the rest of the world. The hospital was damaged by Katrina, but fully functional on the morning after. But later that day, the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat within Memorial rapidly climbed. In this blow-by-blow account, Fink reveals how chaos and lack of proper emergency planning in this facility led an exhausted medical staff to begin to designate certain high-risk patients as “last for rescue”. She also contends that several healthcare professionals hastened numerous patients’ deaths by deliberating injecting a deadly cocktail of drugs. Before picking up Five Days, I was certain no such act had occurred. After reading her exposé, I reluctantly have to admit that something untoward had taken place at Memorial. But unlike Fink, I am not of the opinion that the healthcare professionals involved should have faced criminal charges. While the evidence she provides is solid, her bias of presumed guilt made me question whether all sides were fairly presented. The blame for the situation within the hospital can be assigned to a long list of culprits­­ –– from politicians, to FEMA, to Tenet, the chain owning Memorial. Blaming the misdeeds solely on the medical staff seems unfair and serves no good purpose. That said, by exposing the dilemmas associated with end-of-life care when disaster strikes, this book will generate a much-needed discussion in the healthcare industry regarding how to handle such events in the future. It clearly shows the importance for communities to have a flexible emergency plan in place to provide guidance when disaster strikes. I was struck by the fact that the hospital that fared best in the wake of Katrina was a charity care facility. Long accustomed to coping with limited resources, it found ingenious ways to keep most of its patients alive. Five Days is must reading for ethicists and anyone working in healthcare. But the public at large will also be captivated by Fink’s account of this hurricane-driven medical catastrophe. It is sure to spark a lively debate among book clubs across the country.

Carpenter’s Eye

Itinerant carpenters
have been scouring the neighborhood for
useful scraps,
intent on constructing, from the ground up,
a temporary home.
Nobody can explain why that piece of debris
was found wanting,
while a similar one became chosen lumber.
Certainly not I,
since I’ve never been able to hammer a nail
true and straight.
As Father once said, it takes a carpenter’s eye.
Watching them work,
it also requires, I would add, the patience of
a dedicated saint,
along with the determination of the devil.
Without wheelbarrow
or crane to cart and lift those four walls into
perfect symmetry,
an assembly of grass mixed with straw has
been woven into
a lattice of twigs, and cemented with mud.
Awaiting the eggshell,
snug against the vagaries of the weather,
their satisfied eyes
now measure the floorboards for a carpet
of pale downy hair.

Flu : The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic Of 1918 And The Search For The Virus That Caused It / Gina Kolata

In the spring of 1918 there was an outbreak of the flu across the globe. There was little to differentiate it from past flu seasons—some people died, but most who were infected recovered. But that autumn, first noticed in Spain, the virus mutated and returned, this time proving to be a gruesome killer. The epidemic seemed to target the young and healthy, and there was little the medical community could do to save anyone who came down with the disease. By the time the Great Flu Epidemic (called the Spanish Flu at the time) came to end, an estimated forty million people had died. More American soldiers were killed by the 1918 flu than were killed in battle during World War One. The outbreak was truly global; even Eskimos living in the arctic were infected and entire communities wiped out. While a devastating epidemic, afterwards, few people seemed willing to discuss what had occurred, or more importantly, to try to investigate what had caused this particular strain to be so virulent. In this gripping book, Kolata tells the story of the 1918 outbreak, and then tracks the search by scientists, decades later, to identify the virus and explain how it got its start, what made it such a killer, and the attempt to develop a vaccine should it return. From Alaska to Norway, from Hong Kong to the inner sanctum of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Kolata delves into the history of this particular strain of the flu virus. Her presentation reads like a first-class detective story. Science writing can often be a chore to read, but this is storytelling at its best.

The Sense Of An Ending / Julian Barnes

At age seventy, Tony Webster has reason to look back at his life and be pleased with how things have turned out. He has a married daughter and grandchild, his career proved satisfactory, and while divorced, it was an amicable one. Overall, he is happy in retirement and believes himself to be a decent person. Thinking back to his formative years, he remembers his relationship with four close school friends and his dealings with Veronica, his first girlfriend while at University. Fifty years after the fact, he recalls in detail the events that led to his breaking up with Veronica, and how she shortly after began to date one of his school chums. He remembers feeling hurt and betrayed by this turn of events, but believes he handled the situation with good grace. Then at age seventy, a letter he had written at the time surfaces, forcing him to reconsider his memory of the event. It shows that he had acted in a despicable manner, and possibly caused grave harm. While a compact novel, The Sense of an Ending shows in personal terms how one’s memories are not to be trusted. When the truth is revealed, Tony’s sin is not of the mortal variety, rather, a venial one that begins to haunt him in the dead of night. Barnes has delivered a thought provoking page-turner, filled with insights that ring true. It resonates because Tony Webster represents everyman. All of us have at some point glossed over an uncomfortable memory to put ourselves in a better light. This novel forces the readers to confront their own ghosts in the closet.

Northern Lament

Outlasting the furnace blast of summer heat,
stoically scratching countless stings,
since July, with the corn already knee high,
we have impatiently kept watch.
Sleepless, we’ve heard prowling toms clash.
Been roused by dawn’s bickering birds.
Seen clouds churn dark with swirling winds,
held spellbound as lightning flickered.
Ducked into basements when, with a boom,
awe gave way to self-preservation.
Now the rest of the garden has been picked.
Mornings arrive dappled with frost.
Storms have dissolved into a boring drizzle.
Birds are departing in early light
and the silence is loud with their absence.
Soon, Canadian geese will descend,
and on their heels, other northern cousins
to offer a funeral summation.
An entire summer, spent in anticipation.

And still we wait for the tomatoes to ripen.

Cuban Cigar

In my dream, Castro had become
a prisoner of his own grand design. A decree
had been issued from the hospital
that the glorious revolution would not permit
his demise. Long may his beard grow!
Socialism would not retreat from this battle.
To help keep his lungs pumping,
donors would make the sacrifice, and a fresh
heart was on ice if the need arose.
Ever vigilant, machines monitored his pulse,
with urine samples drawn daily.
A camera was trained on his every breath,
as scribes waited to transcribe
his ramblings into the next five-year plan.
Ranking officials crowded around
to curry favor should he become coherent.
Scholars on the evening news
were enlisted to interpret his discomfort.
Death, an imperialist Yankee plot,
would be thwarted no matter the expense.
Strapped to his bed by tubes,
speechless in the glare of television lights,
Castro’s eyes begged for release.
All the while, holding its collective breath,
a nation awaited his resurrection.

Let this be a warning to anyone
who dares smoke, at bedtime, a Cuban cigar.