One Hundred and Ten Days

Julie Moulds
From: The Woman with a Cubed Head, New Issues Press, 1998.
Last Modified: March 15, 2004

OncoLink Poetry

Under this roof of rectangular things: the motorized bed;
electrical outlets; metallic I.V. machines, clicking
And humming-the only things oddly shaped are the people
In the angled-up beds and the round hanging bags
of chemotherapy. The bed-riding person must push
A red button for a nurse to come: Nurse, I can't breathe.
Nurse, I have anger. Nurse, let me die. In the bathroom,
where urine is carefully measured, a beaded string
can be pulled for help, the spaced plastic beads like a cheap
childhood rosary. There'd be surprisingly little to watch
from the sky. Nurses run in and out. Patients are patient
Or not. Doctors are caring or not (even their hello's
cost seventy-five dollars.) The hallways are oval,
like a high school track. The nurses go on rounds
And wake you with anti-fungal mouth medications,
racks of test tubes and blood pressure cuffs.
The thermometer beeps when it decides your temperature.
You never get used to the way veins constrict
during pressure checks; never get used to the endless line
of needles: blood oxygen pricks on hands, I.V.'s inserted
into arm and chest, blood drawings inside elbows,
huge bone marrow needles in the hip bones.
(you say next time you stick that stake in me,
damn well make sure I'm unconscious
.) You might as well
be an appliance plugged to the wall, each five days
of chemotherapy. Move, and alarms go off. Unplug yourself;
alarms go off. The chemotherapy drips, clicks, hums
into veins. The anti-nauseas fog you up.
You flip the T.V. channels: try to focus on Star Trek,
Barney, Regis and Kathy Lee, then use your hospital tray
for a desk, writing valentines, wedding thank you's,
Christmas cards, on drugs. You recopy your address book,
grade your students' class work, on drugs. Everyone gets an A.
Thirty days in the bone marrow unit and you never leave
the room. You think of Madeline who studied the crack
in her hospital ceiling, the one that looked like a rabbit;
play with the blue paper mask the cleaning girl gives you
when she comes in. You turn the mask into a tent, a bedpan,
A bow tie, a bonnet, a moth, a kidney. You start to order
plain mashed potatoes and cream of wheat for meals.
You could easily starve yourself; put a photo of your family
by the bed. Once a day, the nurse unhooks you
From the I.V. to shower, covers your chest with plastic wrap,
then leaves. You always take longer than you need
in the water-stay under its pulse; rinse off the strange
chemical smells you emit. And after you step out,
drying slowly, and peeling the plastic from under arm
and over nipple, you try to cover the hospital's smell
with baby powder, change to a fresh blue gown.
You could walk to the bed, call the nurse, say, I'm ready
To be re-hooked now, but never do. There are whole minutes
when you keep the closed door and walk to every corner
Of the room, not connected to anything.

From the National Cancer Institute