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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

[with 3 poems by Denton Loving]

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy

Tomorrow we are driving to Raleigh to see our 3-year old grandson Bert. In person! In the two months since our last in person we’ve visited at least once a week on FaceTime or extended-family Zoom sessions. Often he’s in the bath (easier to keep him in one place); he always wants to show us a toy or especially some of his many books; at least once he’s seen a toy in our background and asked to play with it.

Bert is excited to see us on the little screen but our daughter Margaret tells us that almost every day he asks, “Where’s Granny and Pappy?”

Life is busy happening to us while we’re not able to make hardly any plans at all. Where are we indeed!? All of us are no doubt in the same place: spending a lot of time thinking of things we can’t wait to start doing again when the pandemic has subsided (although it’s time for all of us who’ve learned the definition of pandemic to open the dictionary to endemic). Things to do after – you know you have a list. I’ll bet you’ve even been writing them down.

Herewith I’m starting a list of things I hope to be when the seasons of fear and loss and paranoia are past. If there has been any nano-benefit of living through a pandemic, it might be that I’ve started becoming some of these things already:

Open – to what other people need, to what they’re feeling, less fixated on self
Grateful – for the little things and what now seem like really big things, especially time spent with people I love
Aware of daily changes – in nature, in me and my family, present to the passage of time
Hopeful – life will never be the same, but then again what person actually has stepped into the same river twice? I’m glad I get to keep stepping in every day anew.

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Denton Loving’s book Crimes Against Birds has been sitting beside my desk for a good while – face down because Linda is creeped out by the cover. I am so glad I’ve kept returning to it. These poems have become my pandemic companions. It’s not only because of their intimate relationship with nature, outdoors, farm life. The poems are like rocking on the porch while the sun sets across the mountains and your companions are uncertainty, death, regret, loss, but also beauty and hope – you welcome them all, invite them to sit down and tell their stories while you get to know them. There is comfort and consolation in facing what has to be faced, and as you do the moon rises through the trees.

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What Was Told
(after Rumi)

What was said to the canna lily to make it
open was said here in my heart. What was
told the sycamore that made its wood hard
and bone white; what was whispered
to the storm’s wind to make it what it is;
what made the honeysuckle smell so sweet
in summer; whatever seed was planted
in the core of the mountain
people to make them love
so deeply, fiercely, beautifully;
whatever gives the catawba the pink inside
the white blooms – that is being said to me
now. I blush like the catawba’s flower.
Whatever gave life to letters and words
is happening here. The great sanctuary
within me has opened its doors; I fill
with thanksgiving as I savor the sweet
taste of honeysuckle on my lips, in love
with the voice that speaks also to me.

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My Father Leaves Harlan on 119

He remembered
when they started the first
eight miles of this new road
from Pineville to Harlan:
it was 1958.
They had closed
the mines. You couldn’t buy
a job anywhere.

Wilse and Stan and I
were on our way to Corbin
to put in applications – I
can’t remember where now.
Was so long ago.
They didn’t take Stan’s
or mine, and they never did call
Wilse back.

We were hungry
and stopped at Grandma’s
in Barbourville.
We came in the noon
of the day. I don’t think
she was too happy to see us
right in the middle of her work
but she fed us good.
Always did.

She’s been deal all these years
and here I am
Still driving
up this new road.

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Your Very Flesh

I knew a woman who made fudge as thick
and smooth as summer and five times better
than any you ever ate. It’s an art

to make anything that melts on your tongue,
can be savored down deep in your soul. Makes
me want to know how to do it too. Do you

know how to do something that brings simple
joy in its beauty, will be remembered
after you die? Every July, my Nana

made fourteen-day pickles. For days, she soaked
cucumbers in salt water, removed to
cut in perfect slices, submerged again,

drained them and covered them, added alum,
added sweetness, drained and boiled the syrup,
covered again, dedicated fourteen days

to create something in the end that looked too
pretty to eat. But we did anyway. Now, she
is gone, and none of the rest of us will give

fourteen days to the drudgery of pickles.
I’m not only talking food. I know a man
who can quote lines from the classics to suit

any occasion. His gift is not just memory
but also timing and recitation. He’s a walking
anthology of lost verses, forgotten lines.

This same man cuts and sells timber, and I’ve
heard said there’s no one better to use every
inch of wood a tree can yield. There’s no waste

in his bones. Another art. And I bet
when this man stands in the woods with his saw
in hand, he pauses and gives a little

eulogy for the tree he’s ready
to bring down. May, a word from Plato
or john Donne, or this from Whitman:

your very flesh shall be a great poem.

 

all selections from Crimes Against Birds, by Denton Loving, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, © 2014

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The quotation from John Lennon’s song, “Beautiful Boy,” has also been attributed to cartoonist Allen Saunders in 1957: Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

When we meet with Margaret, Josh, and Bert in person we sit around in the backyard in Raleigh, masked if we’re less than 6 feet apart, but we’re allowed to get knee hugs from Bert. The chickens peck around us and garble and coo; Bert runs everywhere and shows us everything; maybe Josh has heated the wood-fired bread oven and makes pizza. If it’s too cold we have to get up and keep moving, maybe walk the Crabtree Creek Greenway. More than once it’s been too too cold and wet and we’ve just had to cancel the visit. But it will never be too cold After.

More about DENTON LOVING, his writing, himself: https://dentonlovingblog.wordpress.com/

 

 

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2017-03-06a Doughton Park Tree

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Last February I began announcing to my patients that I would be retiring in August. A few weeks later, March 2020, the regional health network of which my rural family practice is a small cog decided to curtail face-to-face visits to protect all of us, patients and providers, from exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Today I’m saying goodbye to my patients of 39 years via telehealth.

For several years now, especially after my older partner retired but no doubt because they also noticed my own grey temples, my patients have been asking me, “Are you next?” Or demanded, “Don’t you retire, too!” Or more than one: “You can’t quit practicing until I die!” So I’ve had plenty of time to ponder how I would say my goodbyes. Give fair warning: “But I’ll still be here to see you back for your next 3-month follow up.” Add a bit of boilerplate in the After Visit Summary including my younger colleagues’ names and the assurance, “You’ll be in good hands.” The obligatory form letter to my entire panel, its wording vetted by the compliance office.

The actual farewells, though, have been more intense than I anticipated. I predicted pretty well which grey-haired women (my age!) would ask for a final hug but I never expected the man whose chronic pain I had barely held at bay through the years to tear up and clasp me like a brother. Now it’s May and many more adieu’s yet to come. Currently I’m saying goodbye on the phone or via video link. Patients are asking, “Will I ever see you again in person?”

Will they? Well, it’s a small town. We might raise a hand passing at Food Lion, separated by six feet, although masked we might not recognize each other. What they really mean is will we ever again share together that sacred space, the exam room. Sacred, from Latin sacrare, to set apart: when the door closes the chamber becomes a place for telling and hearing secrets. It is the domain of eye contact and subtle body language. For the healer who can resist the impulse to leap into every hesitation it may become a realm of powerful silences. I am proud of my skills at juggling meds, managing a dozen co-morbidities, recognizing the occasional obscure syndrome, but my highest aspiration has been to master that quarter hour in the presence of one fellow human creature.

My patients are missing a final personal encounter. I am missing hundreds; just one more pale hue in the infinite spectrum of pain this coronavirus is causing. By the time I walk away will we have re-opened our doors? Will our state ever have adequate community-wide testing and surveillance or universal contact tracing? I am in the demographic that is one errant sneeze away from the ICU and a ventilator. Would I be willing to sit down tomorrow twenty-four inches from my next patient and peer at them from behind an ear-loop mask? One sneeze. I am afraid.

I don’t really care that the pandemic has robbed me of going out with the bang of vigorous full daily schedules and stuck me with a whimper. I’m already over the fact that my last few paychecks will be perceptibly slimmer. My deeper sense of loss is like arriving at the dock to wave at the ship that has already cast off its moorings. Can I call it back to harbor? Four decades as a small town family doc teaches a very peculiar sort of generosity – the ability to conceal from your patients your level of personal woe. But this is not the annoyance of another interrupted family meal nor the aggravation of a few hours of lost sleep. This month or the next we will begin to lift some physical distancing restrictions. Will I be generous enough to expand my schedule, to risk my patient’s virus so that we can experience face to face the completion of our long journey together? For whom would I be willing to make that sacrifice? For my patients? Or for me?

 

 

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Care

She opens the jeweled box of care
and unfolds first one
then another – fragile,
painful, frayed.

She falters then lets me touch them:
melancholy scent of longing,
golden afternoon interrupted forever
by thunder,
stained silk of loss;

this shared hour sighs away
past recapture
but the air about her flickers
with some rare new color –
she repacks her box to leave,
each wisp grown a shade lighter

and I carry a pastel weight.

 


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The Geriatrician Ages

They don’t fly up at him, all these names,
no confusion of pigeons’ wings
in the parking lot; they don’t lock arms
to block him entering
the next exam room;
maybe they awaken him near dawn
but not by shaking. More like
the powdery flutter
of a moth disturbed in daylight,
the mute gray snowfall
of ash from burning newsprint.

Many he can’t recall, but all of them
he recognizes when dry lips
whisper their presence
from the other side –
not accusations (their ease of passing
one more benediction
of his calling), not really thanks
though most are grateful,
mostly just an airy I . . . I
in his cluttered bag of memories.

So many, so often now, more and more.
Each murmur a spirit body bowed
into a wheelchair, curled mantis-like
in bed, pushing against a walker,
each of them pushing, pushing
against what held them here
and what let them go.
Some days he can’t remember
if he last saw them on evening rounds
or in a dream, and any moment
he expects the office door to open:
one will enter, speak
his name, one he had thought
was gone.

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Care was first published in Mobius, Vol. 2, Nr. 20, Fall-Winter, 2006
The Geriatrician Ages originally appeared in Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 304, No. 16, October 27, 2010, and is also featured in my March 17, 2012 post
Both of these poems are collected in Crossing the River, Main Street Rag Publishing, © 2017

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Jonesville Family Medical Center — Yadkin County, NC — 2008

 

The JFMC Christmas Party of 2010

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