HealthLink On Air

A visit from the healing muse: ‘When the Doctor’s Dad is Dying’, and ‘The Other Mothers’

Deirdre Neilen, PhDDeirdre Neilen, PhD shares a selection from Upstate’s literary journal, “The Healing Muse” every Sunday on HealthLink on Air. Neilen is the editor of the annual publication featuring fiction, poetry, essays and visual art focused on themes of medicine, illness, disability and healing.  Read The Healing Muse Cafe BlogOrder your copy of “The Healing Muse” today!


When the Doctor’s Dad is Dying, by Robert Schwab

The son plods along, his footfalls fighting the gravity of the situation,
Along the hospital corridor.
Pausing at intervals to wait for his father, the son knows
This walk tires the mans
Who worked six days a week molding steel into skyscrapers.

The son waits, hearing the shuffling behind him, remembering
All the times he followed his father across the yard,
Plastic lawnmower stirring the freshly cut grass clippings,
Trying to keep up with his hero.

The father scuffles along, his sneakers struggling against gravity,
Pacing himself so he doesn’t fall too far behind; he watches
His son’s back, grown broad and strong, remembering
When he wore the boy like a backpack on the way up to bed.

He labors, falling behind, losing ground, remembering
What it was like to walk ten stories up, all day long,
Never tiring, never afraid, never thinking of the day
When he would no longer be able to keep up with his son.

The son waves and nods to his students who call him teacher,
To his patients who call him doctor, wanting to tell them
That he can be neither just now, that for this moment
He is only a son.

And then he stops, turns, and looks, just as his father stops and looks,
And their eyes race across thirty years of unspoken love,
Carrying the message that neither can speak nor bear to hear –
It is not supposed to be this way.


The Other Mothers, by K. B. Kincer

They arrive in uniforms of grey,
pink and blue, the colors of dusk, of dawn,
patterned like flocks of birds lifting
from water to sky, rustling about the room
straightening sheets, plumping pillows,
untangling tubes hanging from IV poles
that chirp, whir, and tether the bed, a boat floating,
trying to drift from this pastel shore.

A blur of movement, they bob and turn
in short, swift steps, check the charts,
temperature, administer meds, and let
his mother brush Vaseline over cracked,
swollen lips, let her comb his hair,
massage cream into his hands, his feet,
let her stay at the foot of the bed.

They wash his body, but cover him
as they go, before and after, to expose
nothing to janitors swabbing floors,
removing trays, emptying trashcans.
They support his head, his arms and legs
with pillows and blankets, just so,
for they’ve practiced at home sprawling for hours
on couch cushions and foam bolsters.

Slats of sunlight enter the room, row
slowly across the floor, fade. At night,
his mother watches them lift and turn her son
to face the window, always east.


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