Prize Winners 2000

…who ate the ice cream

I have been here sixty days today.  It ain’t been so bad.  Not too much different than bein’ home.  I woulda  spent them days in bed too, watchin’ Oprah followed by The View, then Jerry.  Maybe even the 12 o’clock news ‘fore I got tired again and had to rest my eyes awhile.  No stories though, can’t stand them stories!  So fake.  If one of them’s in the hospital, they all stand ’round in the hallway talkign wit’ the doc frettin’ ’bout teh person, cryin’ and falling out wit’ grief.  I sure wouldn’t mind bein’ in that General Hospital ‘stead of here.  I’d get cured by some last minute miracle…or else I’d come back from the dead, perfeck-ly healthy (‘cept wit’ amnesia and plastic surgery) and fall in love with somebody I used to hate before or whatnot.  So far there ain’t been no miracle for me.

I do look forward to when I wake up in the mornin’s to the cast-a-characters that make up my own little drama.  There’s the good-lookin’ guy (‘cept he could lose that curl) who bring my meal trays, the blonde nurse who ac’ like she in too much of a hurry to be bothered wit’ me, and that nice lady doctor, wit’ her short white coat, who be axin’ so many questions.  There’s other ones too.  Sometimes I wonder what they noses and mouths might look like.  I remember bein’ surprised, when I first came, ’bout the masks, ’til the lady doctor told me it was to protec’ me since my blood cells was low.

I ain’t seen nothin’ but eyes in sixty days.  Some of the eyes sasy they ‘fraid of me.  They say, “what God-awful disease does she have to be bald and so black and shrivel’ lookin’?”  Sometimes I wear a scarf or I’ll smile and make small talk to make them more comfortable.  The ones who eyes say they a’ready know, talk to me like I’m a lil’ kid and handle me real gentle so as not to worsen my delicate condition.

They tickle me!  Like that real old doc who see me ’bout the fungus in my lungs.  He came in the other day real sober and serious and axed if he could examine me.  Then he turned ’round to the group of young docs and motioned for somethin’.  They all went to searchin’ they overstuff’ pockets, all of ’em tryin’ to be the firs’ to find it.  He turn back to me wit’ the stick in his hand.  I tried not to, but I couldn’t hol’ it back and I giggled.  “What is it?” he said.  “Oh nothin’,” I said, but the lady doc knew why I laughed.  I had tol’ her ’bout it that mornin’.  “Go on, tell him,” she said.  “Well, my niece gave me this card…it says ‘don’t let them put the stick in your mouth ’til they tell you who ate the ice cream.'”  All the docs laughed, but that old one laughed like he was surprise’ and I was glad to see his eyes put at ease.

Lakshmi Lewis, Class of 2000

First Prize

Ear Training

Every Christmas season I love to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
I don’t love its maudlin, sentimental side.
I don’t love that its message about sacrifice as virtue
exposes my own self-absorption.
I frankly don’t know what I love about it sometimes.
But I do.  I definitely do.
Maybe I just like the ritual
and melodrama that reminds me I still have emotions;
useless ones, with no survival value; maybe even empathy.
I know I like the bit that Bailey gets the perforated eardrum,
and then he only hears the “good side.”
The summer I turned twenty, I went into the hospital for “tests.”
They knew I had inflammatory bowel disease, so even now
I don’t know why they sent me for an intravenous pylogram.
“Painless” they said.  And I thought “Great.”
“Less invasive” than the “strawberry shake”
read: fifteen pounds of barium I had to down;
and few experiences humans have in peacetime rank as more unpleasant–
and I’m including root canal and gum resection here–
than “colonoscopy;” read: intimate relations with a sewer-pipe-sized object.
And yeah, I know: it only seems that way
but as the poet said “I know not seems.”
Something happened with the IVP.
Suddenly my throat felt like a pea was lodged inside
and then a grape and then a ping-pong ball.
“Okay: he’s reacting” and “it’s anaphylxis” were totally opaque to me.
Even “Benadryl STAT” and “I don’t know where they put it–
I’ll have to find some” found me mostly unaffected.
And this was strange ’cause in my mind I knew that it was serious
when ping-pong ball grew into tennis ball it seemed.
Strange, considering I could have died in minutes there.
Just the same, it didn’t freak me out.
The Benadryl was found, the tennis ball was made to disappear,
and just to take the edge off–
an edge that came from somewhere else it happened–
I got a Valium.
And there it was:
that brain-part where anxiety smouldered
like a filament in a lobe;
like a tiny bulb shot out by a magic bullet;
like a surgical strike to a ministry of propaganda.
Everything the same:
same hands, same feet, same skin and bones
same senses, same reality
Only the sum was altered.
I was not afraid that I would die from shock or allergy:
I still existed in the bubble of a young immortal.
But I was totally pre-occupied by findings of this “work-up.”
I knew the situation and my life were changing:
out of my control.
I couldn’t hear the techno-speak.
I couldn’t break the findings down.
I walked below a cloud for days before and after Valium.
Until one doctor spoke to me in terms I could digest
about the future and how not to fear it.
Today I try to take this with me:
I try to learn what dark or bright or what particular concerns
my patients build their psychic lives around.
When I’m doing well
I’m talking to their good side.

Ari Zaka, Class of 1999

Second Prize (Tie)


“Habitus: 1. physique; 2. attitude”
Having long ago realized
that no connection remains between us,
I write this nonetheless for you.
Well, to be more precise, it is written
to help me cope
with those shadowy filaments of memory
that cling to me like the adhesions
in that belly we opened today.
My point of course is this:
that I recall this old man’s shaven groin
but his name and face I had forgotten.
As time goes on, the attitude grow…
becoming a doctor and losing myself,
except the parts that function, robotically
to fit the white-coat role.
The tip of a finger on
dorsalis pedis, ears tuned for stirrings
of bowel sounds (how many days post op?)
But lingering on my post-call mind
are thoughts of you.  Thoughts of a person
with his own physique and attitude;
a habitus I’d say…and in my mind I see you
all of a piece, and without smile…
Where is that smile?  You know the one
that masks the pain, that arcs up to the sky
like a punctured vessel shooting blood.
Later we joke “next time on the ceiling,”
and wish that in our lives
we could reach the ceiling not with pain
but with some satisfaction.
Alas, as days go by, I think it’s not to be.
But now and then, please think of me
(or of the person that you knew);
wearing a habitus of hardening form,
so firm already now
that only poems for doctors
progress from soul to words.

Laura Hans, Class of 2001

Second Prize (Tie)