We are mandated to go to PPE training
where we prepare for all the infected patients
who will blister from the walls of this hospital—
fluid-filled and pale.
The instructor exudes calm professionalism
as we watch a video on how to scour our hands:
wring fists together like two sumo wrestlers,
twist around the trunk of each thumb,
steeple up the empty roofs and quake,
pinch the digits together, and rub
on the palms as if starting a fire.
Then we go to an imaginary droplet
room in which a person (our neighbor
our friend our grandmother) is drowning.
I volunteer and attempt to joke
“Oh great, I got the hardest scenario!”
and everyone returns a magnetic hostility.
The teacher retorts “This is actually the easiest one.”
Don: gown, tie behind back, mask N95. Wait—
wash hands: squeeze/tree/church/clutch/burn.
Gloves up over cuffs. Face shield with plastic
barrier over eyes. Enter room facing the ill.
Do patient care (as if that was the easiest part).
Back away from the contaminated area.
Wash gloved hands: wrest/whorl/spire/pinch/flame.
Wipe the doorknob and threshold. Keep your dirty
face toward the body (remember: dirty to dirty).
Exit the door.
Doff: gown, like pulling off charred skin.
Roll it up into a wet heart.
Pull soiled gloves over and discard.
Wash hands: crush/circle/tent/curl/excoriate.
Doff outer mask. Keep facing the door.
(Dirty to dirty.) Make sure your eyes are dry
before removing your inner mask.
Today I compressed a man’s chest standing on a stool.
They have already been trying to save this patient
for 45 minutes when I am summoned to help because
the compressors are getting tired.
People look destroyed in the room,
pale skin, glances downward, a confusion
of blood, IV bags and lines, and machines
with one sunken rack of bruises on the table
in front of me. I begin pumping, keeping up
100 beats a minute. His chest has no more
intact ribs, I am certain, but the code
continues and I have two minutes
until the next pulse check. My scrub pants
never want to stay up, and today is no exception.
So, now my pants slink halfway down my cheeks
and my crack enters the room like a joke
at a funeral. I want so badly to yank up my pants
but I cannot. I want to call out to someone, anyone
to lift them up for me, but I cannot. Then I think,
is it more disrespectful to bare my ass
in the service of this man, or to ask for assistance
in this time of stoic duty? I choose to continue
unabated. The next round I pull them so high
my socks show in their entirely.
The man regains a pulse for about 2 minutes,
there are scattered claps and muted cheers.
Then the blood pressure drops again and so
does the pulse and the code is stopped.
This patient had no reason to die, just quit
breathing under moderate sedation. The doctors walk
ahead of me to tell the daughter. I gather the last clothes
he wore in a plastic sack, wait for the doctors to
say the words.
When I care for an elderly man in the hospital
and the son comes to pick up his father
I see how the father’s relationship with suffering
and laughter and hope amidst pain
has transmitted to the younger.
Has he preached to the son and did
the son decide to digest the sermon
or choose other gods?
85% of the time the mythology remains unbroken:
if the father pulls on the lines keeping him alive with disgust
and frustration, the son will rail on about the traffic
and the parking.
If the father jokes about how the surgery for his bladder
didn’t make his manhood grow, as was promised,
the son will confess that the surgery did not make
his father mute, as was promised.
But there are those sons who either have chewed
on their own dark tobacco until it has blistered their fingers
or have drank from the shine of decent friends
until they are buoyant.
So I remember, most times, how to interact with my God
in front of my daughter, and now my son.
I don’t ever want to see them curse
all the gifts in their hands.
Scott Ferry helps our Veterans heal as a RN. He has recent work in Cathexis NW, Swimming with Elephants, and MacQueen’s Quinterly. His book The only thing that makes sense is to grow came out in January 2020. More of his work can be found at ferrypoetry.com