Tuesday, October 30, 2018

"Take a Minute To Not Breathe" by Lauren McBride

Take a Minute To Not Breathe
Lauren McBride

Please take a minute 
to not breathe.
One minute of your day -
sixty seconds.

Now three deep breaths - 
inhale, exhale, again and hold . . .
lungs full, diaphragm strong, heartbeat steady.

1,2,3 starting off easy
            croup, asthma, cystic fibrosis

4,5,6 seconds speeding by 
                 pertussis, pneumonia, tuberculosis

10, 15 seconds ticking slower 
                      pulmonary edema, emphysema, COPD 

20, 25 straining now
                                lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

30, 35 heart racing
                  coughing, choking, short of breath, respiratory arrest

40, 50 lungs burning, diaphragm twitching 
            inhaler, bottled oxygen, ventilator

60 seconds 
Now breathe!
Inhale. Exhale.

Again. Breathe deeply 
in and out,    in   and   out
and be grateful
that you can.

Poet's Notes:  My father died of IPF, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. From diagnosis to death: five years, exactly on schedule. The death rate with this disease is 100%; there is no cure. The treatment is a lung transplant, not without its own risks, and not for the elderly. 

Several conditions and diseases can cause a daily struggle for breath or the frightening feeling of suffocation. There is even a word for it: dyspnea. Some diseases are curable, some chronic, some deadly. All are debilitating. 

I hope my poem made you think about breathing, something we typically take for granted. If so, please consider donating to a respiratory disease charity of your choice.

Editor’s Note:  This poem is a departure for Lauren or for anyone for that matter--quite original.  The differential diagnostic scheme as expressed in the poem may or may not be accurate--I honestly am not sure.  I can say I was definitely not taught in medical school to count the seconds that a patient takes between breaths or to complete a breath as a way to come to a differential diagnosis for dyspnea.  However, attention to a prolonged inspiratory or expiratory phase of respiration is advised to come to the broad conclusion that something is wrong with the respiratory system.

The accuracy of the differential diagnosis scheme does not matter here for the poem to have a powerful impact.  The various diagnoses and treatments, for the most part, escalate properly and are quite effective in conveying a sense of impending doom to the reader who may even be holding his or her breath as he or she reads.  This is a brilliant poetic conceit and certainly conveys an important message.

The white spaces in this poem are of supreme importance, as they correspond to the time intervals indicated in the poem as well as to the increasing blankness of the mind and body that occurs with increasing respiratory distress.  The Art Editor and I made the editorial decision not to include any artwork so as not to interfere with this aspect of the poem.

Those interested in donating to a respiratory disease charity should consider these:

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