Poet Grow-Op - May 2016

Kira Moolman

Kira Moolman is a University of Toronto student entering her final year of the Master of Divinity degree at Wycliffe College. She enjoys rooibos tea, Peter Pan, and the paintings of Vilhelm Hammershøi. If she were an animal she would probably be an otter but has not quite committed to it yet.

 

On Call

As medical professionals, my parents are used to

being first on scene to help. Paramedic mother.

Doctor father. The babysitter would sleep over

on the nights that they were both on call.

On these nights my mother was the first to answer

the phone and get out of bed, the house quiet and dark,

us children sleeping a few rooms over.

 

She would pick up the patients and

bring them to the hospital for my father to treat,

leaving their bed in the middle of the night,

quiet

quiet

so as to not wake him,

knowing that he would soon have to wake up

to take care of whoever she could patch up

and place on a stretcher, drive through

the flatness of the Prairies in the still dark night,

and bring to the hospital, the only building

with the lights still on in the small sleeping town.

 

The paramedic chief used to say that he hated

working with my father, because he was too calm

in the face of emergency. Perhaps that stillness

was a bit unsettling to those who had just been

driving in the blowing snow, sirens wailing,

to find broken bodies, the noise of being first

on scene, the rush and the quick commands:

airway

breathing

circulation,

the ABCs I learned as quickly as I could speak,

potty-trained and first-aid trained,

then get to work with rescue breathing,

next elbows locked and hands in place to pump back circulation:

one one thousand

two one thousand

three one thousand

and then after this clatter to meet my father,

ready to take care of the situation, his voice soft,

his hands so much softer

than that of the tough prairie folk he treated,

their hands gnarled and calloused

by frostbitten winters and drought-dry summers.

 

All those years in Manitoba,

where my parents worked together

to save lives for a living. Now they have moved

to other ways of saving.

But when my mother leaves my father’s side

at night because his snoring is too loud,

or the room is too hot,

or he is tossing too much, he still wakes up after

a while, following her path, still seeking

to treat those emergencies she has started to fix.

 

Pain Management

 

Father doctor, whose patients treat him as priest,

pouring out confession, steeping him in saline.

His job is to manage pain,

rather than cure,

sometimes with ketamine,

or other drugs I am not certain

how to spell or pronounce,

sometimes by listening and lingering and waiting.

 

Doctors

 

have

 

patience,

 

our fridge magnet reads, the fridge full of leftovers

of my mother’s cooking and small glass bowls containing

the spicy sauces my father concocts, making every

dinner a tearful affair for him, though he smiles at us

through the sweat, making small noises of satisfaction.

I don’t understand why anyone

would deliberately do something

that causes that kind of pain.

The fridge magnet giving the reminder of why,

sometimes, though it occurs rarely,

there is little patience left over for us.

 

I understand. It is a hard job, and after all,

he is just one man, full of stories that would turn me

hard-hearted

in reaction to the bruising and battering

that comes with caring,

if I had to hear those stories every day,

if I had to watch people

 

die

 

every day. I don’t know how he does it.

 

It takes a special person to do that kind of job,

people tell me, and I nod and know it is true.

 

He comes home full of their stories and fears,

but does not empty them on us. Patient confidentiality,

you understand. He is known for his bedside manner

at the hospital, his sense of humour, his care, the accent

that makes everything he says sound more legitimate.

(Which is why the church ladies believed him when he

casually described a fictional tattoo, placed on his left buttock.)

 

My whole life, I have been in the habit of

confessing my cuts and scrapes to my father,

showing the bruises, describing aches and pains,

(where does it hurt? on a scale of 1 to 10?

does it stab, throb, or come in waves?),

with the utmost confidence in his prognosis,

his ability to prescribe and treat,

trusting his dismissal or concern.

He continues asking about the pain

long after the symptoms have subsided,

remembering my hurts, fearing the worst.

For a doctor that treats terminal patients,

every pain could mean the end. We are all

 

terminal,

 

he reminds us.

 

When my father makes confession to me, I turn

complacent in the role of counsellor, in my

opportunity to manage pain

without the training or the ketamine,

or the listening.

I find him sitting with head bent, back bowed,

hands cupping the hollows under cheekbones,

paralyzed with the helplessness that comes

from being unable to manage our pain,

our family doctor,

this father doctor.

 

I kneel beside him in the dark

with words of would-be comfort,

telling him that we are only human,

we are all only human.

 

Only now do I realize that sometimes

the only cure is patience,

the listening and lingering and waiting.