Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Christmas Eve in the Hospital" by Howard Stein, Frequent Contributor

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present a holiday-related sneak peek by one of our new Frequent Contributors, Howard Stein.  Howard will be formally introduced to the readership in his new role with a Poet of the Week feature in the first weeks of this year.  His biography may be found on the "Our Staff" page.

Christmas Eve in the Hospital
Howard Stein

Christmas Eve, sometime after midnight,
A young Mexican woman and her baby boy
Enter the hospital ED.  A pediatric intern
Is on duty, her turn to work the ED.
She imagines home, her husband,
Their baby, their tree. 

She examines the sick baby boy,
Starts preparing paperwork
To admit him to the hospital.
Her supervising physician
Interrupts her sharply:
“We’re on divert, we’re full,
No room tonight – send her
To another hospital.”
“How can we do that!” 
The intern protests in horror,
But to no avail.  All she can do is to
Tell the mother in halting Spanish,
“We’re sorry, but you’ll have to try
The hospitals across town.
I’ll call to see if there’s room.”

Ten years later, another Christmas Eve,
This time she is surrounded by family.
Images of that long-ago Christmas Eve
Percolate up, as if it were
Happening again today,
Unfinished with her.
It is like this every year.

Poet's Notes:  For around forty-five years, I was a medical and psychoanalytic anthropologist who worked in healthcare organizations as a medical educator.  I worked with many trainees and medical professionals at many levels and learned countless stories from their experiences. I often could use these stories as teaching moments and sometimes as occasions for thinking of creative solutions to situations in which the trainees found themselves. The story in this poem actually happened, and I amplified it somewhat with my imagination. 

In the poem, the pediatric intern was confronted not only by a situation of powerlessness but of a current situation that uncannily resembled the Christmas Story. The doctor was horrified that there was nothing she could do to find a way to get the baby boy admitted to the hospital. Rather, she had to comb the city to see whether any other hospital had room to take this child in.  The two stories were intertwined. This juncture of a present medical situation with a story of mythic proportions inspired this poem.  It portended tragedy on simultaneously a human and cosmic scale. 

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