Before embarking on my soon-to-end career, I took a course called “Labor in Literature and the Arts”. For that course I wrote a series of poems about work (including delivering newspapers, selling concessions at football games, driving cab, plumbing). After several years working in healthcare, I realized I had not yet written about that endeavor. I decided to do something about it.
Fast forward a dozen years. I was looking for some old photos on a seldom-used hard drive. I came across some poems about health care that I’d forgotten about. I’ll reprint some here so that you can forget about them, too.
Surgery is better than medicine.
That’s why surgeons get paid more than physicians.
If I give you a medication,
You have to keep taking it.
But if I cut something out of you,
It’s gone forever.
But then maybe you’ll have to take
I used to be a plumber.
I could be a vascular surgeon.
It’s the same work,
But it pays better.
It’s usually cleaner
And doesn’t smell as much,
But that’s not always true.
I can use a snake to clear a clog
But in your arteries we give it a different name.
I can replace your pipes
And if I were a surgeon I wouldn’t even have to
Know how to solder.
I used to be carpenter
But now I’m an orthopedic surgeon.
The tools are pretty much the same
But smaller and prettier.
I love stainless steel and titanium.
The work is still the same
But I get more respect.
I get paid ten times as much
And no one complains about the bill –
Not to me, anyway;
No one wonders if I’m worth that much.
No one complains about the materials cost
And asks me if I could use something cheaper.
No one tells me they can get a hip for less at Menard’s
And asks me if I can install that one and only charge for labor.
There is a poem waiting to be written
But I don’t know how to write it.
I’ve been in this hospital for ten years.
There are stories to tell
But I still don’t know how to tell them.
You come in with a medical history written in code.
CAD, DM II, CHF, ESRD on HD.
The we ask you what’s wrong
And make a diagnosis.
Diagnosis means telling you what you just told me,
but saying it in Greek and Latin.
Just because I can recite your symptoms in another language
I get paid in 6 figures.
Well, not me
But someone like me.
We still don’t know how to fix it.
We can give you some drugs.
They’ll make some of the symptoms better
But only as long as you keep taking them.
The drugs will cause some other symptoms
But we have a drug for that.
We don’t use the word “drug”.
That’s how you know I’m not really a doctor.
If I were a doctor I would have said
Drugs are what you take.
Medications are what we give you.
5 thoughts on “Say Goodnight Dick.”
A little bitter 🙂 but I really like the end of the second poem. Yep. Drugs are what I take; medication is what they give me.
And this is brilliant, “Diagnosis means telling you what you just told me, but saying it in Greek and Latin.”
I recently learned that ALL my labs are available for me to read in full. I did. OK, they’re written in a foreign language and it isn’t the Homeric Greek I studied or the Attic I should’ve passed but failed because I was a pussy with low self-esteem (long story).
I had to look up a LOT of words in the results of the calcium scan, but from that I learned that a small part of my left lung has collapsed. I have a small hiatal hernia — both possibly from coughing (asthma) but also, possibly (the lung) from anesthesia during surgery and the hernia from genetics. Because no one told me about this, I decided it was probably NBD and, anyway, I’m done having anyone cutting into me. I pondered all this and then thought about a doc ages ago who said, straight up, “It comes with age.” I was a young sprite of 50 and very put out by that.
I have since thought that when a person is 35 or 40 a doc or someone should hand them a pamphlet about what happens. As it is, we have to look to our parents or other family members for that information. Maybe that’s what genetics will offer in the future but then the question; would it really be better to know?
As for plumbing vs surgery, my orthopedic surgeons were good guys, but none as profound and interesting as my plumber. “The way I see it, if we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?”
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I’ve always been fascinated by our use of obscure terms to make us look smart. No one has a “nosebleed”. They have “epistaxis”. What I really like is when we use those terms incorrectly. We use “nares” to mean “nostrils”. One nostril is a naris, but I have never seen that word in a medical record. Doctors write nare, thinking that is the singular, using their English framework even though the word is not an English word. Bitter? No. I actually love my work. I get to spend more time with patients than doctors do.
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Yeah — it was very difficult unteaching my business students who thought fancy words were good communication. 🙂
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Liked the “we have drug for that”. I’m so averse to medications — sorry drugs — because I’ve had side effects. What happened to first, do no harm?
Western medicine is good for diagnosis (half the time), broken bones, surgeries and making Big Pharma, insurance, and doctors and hospitals rich.
John Q and Sicko by Michael Moore are two good movies about health care in America.
Eastern and alternative medicine isn’t well studied and herbal not well regulated, and seldom covered by insurance.
Health seems largely dependent on genes, environmental influences (plastic, water, air, noise, other pollution), ability to afford organic food, and the will power to make good choices… and luck.
Thank you for your service and for sharing your poems.
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I liked Sicko (and all of his films so far); haven’t seen John Q – thanks for the tip. I’ve always been entertained by the term “side effects”. The only thing “side” about some of them is that they aren’t the ones for which we chose the drug. When they are nearly universal, “side effect” seems to be a misnomer. To call them “undesired” effects makes them sound more significant and surely they don’t want that. Then again, some truly are on the side, insignificant, or present only for some people. I’m always intrigued by the “side effects” reported for placebo in studies. We study drugs against placebo instead of nothing, in part because the placebo effect is real and can be quite powerful. I take only partial credit for being in the condition I’m in at my age. I agree that genes, luck, and my lack of exposure to toxins played a role. Then again, I am certain I scraped lead-based paint off of storm windows more than once while growing up and repainted with lead-based paints and no respirator while inhaling the fumes (not to mention the gasoline fumes inhaled while filling a hot lawnmower). Thanks for your comment.
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