Surgery Rotation (Richard M. Berlin)

The last weak rays of sun
shine on the drab-green chart room walls.
The evening staff has finished report,
and the wing quiets as night comes on,
our team reviewing the final tasks
on our thirty-six-hour shifta
dressing for a gangrenous toe,
x-rays to read, IVs to start.
The surgeon opens an aluminum chart
with two hundred colored pages
clipped by a spring, pink for progress
notes, blue for vital signs, lab values
stapled in like tattered rags
on a scarecrow. He points the cold
metal at me like an accusation,
and lets it fall just before I get my grip.
I can still see it tumble
like a cannon ball Galileo dropped
from the Leaning Tower,
and I can still hear it explode”‘
on the linoleum floor,
pages scattered like straw in a thunderstorm.
But what I remember best is how hard
the floor felt against my knees,
the dust balls in the corner,
the way no one moved
to help me pick up the pages,
the shined black toes of the surgeon’s shoes.

1. How is the climate of surgical practice and teaching captured in this piece?
2. The narrator speaks about this being “our thirty-six hour shift”, how do you cope during
long shifts at the hospital? What coping strategies do you have for remaining focused?


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