On “The Crash Room”
By Kelley J. White
THE CRASH ROOM
here is where I run in slow motion
clipboard as shield keys clanking
stethoscope banging breast with each beat
chanting the mantra of resuscitation: adrenalin
bretylium bicarbonate dopamine
and the door has flung open on a child
seizing a child
bleeding a child whose shoulders convulse
with electroconversion shock
a child burned a child
crushed a child struck torn broken fixed
pupils pinpoint dulled eyes swollen shut shut
and I will be the one at the ankle
threading a line
the one pushing chest
the one counting with an ear at the mouth
the one cutting
clothes the one pushing tubes
the one standing on the ceiling
—Poet Lore Vol. 97, No. 3/4
This is the urgency of Code Blue. Doctor Stat. Arrest. I was twenty-five years old, an intern in a crumbling inner-city hospital in a crumbling neighborhood in North Philadelphia. I’d chosen St. Christopher’s for its smiling apple logo and a fleeting sense that my peers would support me; that I just might be able to survive a three-year residency and then begin a life; that a dozen of us—new doctors in training, each issued two sets of scrubs, proud of not sleeping, arrogant with our beepers and bloodied shoes, clutching our cold coffee on rounds—could invent together a better way to fix lives. I was terrified. I was exhausted. I was dangerous and full of intolerant self-importance.
I hope that “The Crash Room,” written twenty years later, contains some of that terror, rushing—the stuttering footsteps down a dim hall, the stuttering heartbeat. I left the lines unstopped. Let there be the chopping rhythm of awful discovery. Let there be the eerie smoothness that comes with the loss after the adrenalin lets go. The momentary identification with the patient, as our chief resident taught us: at a code, ‘the first pulse to check is your own.”
“The Crash Room” published in Poet Lore in 2002, became part of my collection Toxic Environment, published by Boston Poet Press in 2008. Oddly, that manuscript also includes a later poem, “After performing CPR,” which appeared in Kalliope in 2003. It uses a similar non-punctuated enjambed strategy but is intended to have a slower pace, using the softer sounds of s’s and f’s, instead of the hard c’s and b’s of “The Crash Room.” It tries to remember the body experience of CPR—the way the rhythm stays with the body for days after the event, like dozing off after an evening of dancing a dark, desperate dance.
AFTER PERFORMING CPR
like skiing the white hills of sleep
following mountains all the bright chill
day the rhythm of falling in time with
a wind singing above the flight falling
yet never touching ground sweet sore
muscle learned and the child will breathe
will open her eyes this time will breathe
Thirty years later now, the experience stays with me. Though it’s no longer a frequent requirement in my work, where the major emergencies are ‘social’ (child abuse, foster care, substance abuse, mental illness, homelessness, kids falling into the criminal justice system), I still listen with a stethoscope and use an otoscope and opthalmoscope for exams. But I try more and more to see and hear with my eyes and ears and a thinking heart. I’ve come back to my little town in New Hampshire and found it every bit as much suffering, and more, for children in this pristine rural environment than in my ‘Toxic’ city. At the present, I am not writing many poems. I thought I’d write about nature here in the pine woods or spiritual life, gazing at white steeples. Perhaps, in another thirty years, my words will be shaped by the urgent sufferings of these children. It may be urgent that I write these stories before they are forgotten or I run out of time.
After 30 years of pediatric practice in inner-city Philadelphia, Kelley J. White now practices at a rural health center in her home state, New Hampshrie. She received a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship in poetry in 2008, which helped to support work on her most recent collection, TWO BIRDS IN FLAME, poems related to the Shaker themes, and published by Beech River Books.
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