HealthLink On Air

A visit from the healing muse: ‘A phone call after midnight’, and ‘The Country of Illness’

Deirdre Neilen, PhDDeirdre Neilen, PhD shares a selection from Upstate’s literary journal, “The Healing Muse” every Sunday on HealthLink on Air. She edits the annual publication featuring fiction, poetry, essays and visual art focused on themes of medicine, illness, disability and healing.

Order copies of “The Healing Muse” through the Center for Bioethics & Humanities.


A phone call after midnight, by Nina Bennett

never brings good news. My father’s
bedside dialysis line has clotted again,
third night in a row, after his family
stumbled home from the hospital
to shed tears hidden not only from him,
but from each other.

The doctor says my father, intubated
and less responsive each day,
communicates in the only language
he can access, declares his wishes
to those who will listen.

I drink coffee until daybreak, drive
to my childhood home. Mum
sits on the patio, stares
at the overgrown clematis Dad planted,
shakes her head when I start
to speak. She puts on gardening gloves,
picks up the pruner, clips
until violet flowers spring free,
released from the confines
of tangled vine. Chooses a blossom
the shade of midnight for Dad,

a jolt of color against the white sheets
and metal of the ICU.
Dad died that evening,
his final exhale so gentle
it didn’t ruffle the faded
flower resting on his chest.

The Country of Illness, by Meryl Natchez

Your body no longer belongs to you,
but to technicians whose work
is the body. Your time is taken up
in the exhausting task of translating
the confusing currency, adapting to customs
that seem pure insult where you come from.
Travel here is hard,
light and clatter just when you want
dim sleep. Visitors with their annoying questions,
as if you knew anything useful.
It takes all your time just to decipher
the map, the border instructions,
while you slowly work to put together
the price of the ticket back
to the land of the well, where we take our bodies
blessedly for granted.

You swear if your frail
boat ever arrives again at that shore,
you’ll treasure every moment without pain,
appreciate the feet that carry you everywhere,
the arms that lift and hold and lift
at your command. But it’s not possible.
The healthy breathe health like fish
breathe water. We move at will, cursing
when the car won’t start, or the coffee spills,
and all the while the dark blood pulses,
and health glints,
thoughtless as moonlight
on black water.


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