Poetry Category Winner: And Breathe—The 2022 Medical Humanities Writing Award Winners

Every year, ACEP’s Medical Humanities Section hosts its Writing and Visual Arts Awards as part of the section’s mission to promote the medical humanities as a source and means of lifelong learning for emergency physicians. The winners of the 2022 prose and poetry categories are featured below, and the 2023 contest will open this summer. Connect with other emergency physicians who are interested in fine arts, literature, and the humanistic social sciences by plugging into the Medical Humanities section at acep.org/humanities.

Poetry Category Winner

by Elizabeth Mitchell, MD

And when you hear it, my tongue tapping the two D’s on

my palate with the little puff of air in between,

you come at me wild eyed and disbelieving.

I do not flinch as you pound on my chest with your

hands flat in a plea to God and to me that it is not true

that he is not dead that we didn’t try hard enough

that it isn’t him that we got it wrong that this can’t be

happening.

And while you hurl yourself around the room

possessed with unbearable grief we wait,

and then we walk, holding you up

through the waiting room gravely quiet

down one long hall, and then another,

until finally we are there. Somewhere

I hear laughter and I want it to stop

to shut out the sounds of the living.

And you draw a breath. I open up the doors and let you in

and you are gentle, reverential, asking him to wake

tapping him, caressing him, blowing on his face,

whispering in his ear, pushing back his hair

and then you are yelling at him to “wake up”

and I stand there and I wait and I breathe

and I try not to think about the time and the other patients

and you are rocking his head back and forth and back and forth

and you ask if you can blow into the tubing in his mouth

and you try to find him there in the sleeping dead man you love

and wake him, save him, “just one more night” you implore.

and finally it ends. But not for you. Never for you.

And you.

You go back to work. Then you go home.

You eat toast with butter and jam.

You drink scotch and take a shower.

You stand in the hot water and you breathe

and you shake and you cry