When Words Fail

Beatrice PretiBeatrice Preti
McMaster University
Class of 2017

 

 

 

 

 

The curtains were drawn, I walked into the room,
Looked at the lady, and said, “How do you do?”
She was very kind, just a little bit addled,
But the doctors around us were really quite baffled
Had she had a stroke? Was it from the MVC?
There was nothing at all to see on the multiple CTs
Save a little bit of shadowing, in the corner over here
But the pictures were too blurry. No, not a single thing was clear!
So they made a few calls, and then made a couple more
They met with the consultants on every single floor
They put their heads together, and came up with an answer
“It’s so obvious!” they said. “She has metastatic cancer!”
So they sent me to the patient, to have a little talk,
Since the patient was annoyed now that she’d found she couldn’t walk.
But I had made her smile before, that’s why they sent me in
“She’ll listen to you,” they said. “The situation’s win-win.”
But it was hell when she held my hand. A little part of me died.
I found I couldn’t say the truth, but there was no way I could lie.
So I just smiled and told her things she didn’t understand
She smiled right back and nodded as she held onto my hand
“I don’t know much,” I started off. “But we think we have an answer.
This sickness here inside of you? We think it is a cancer.”
She knew she had cancer, that wasn’t news to her.
But everything else I had to say just turned into a blur.
I didn’t tell her she had three weeks. I still don’t think she knows.
Because her sons were coming in, and I said, “Let’s see how it goes.”

Today, this morning, she took my hand
And said to me, “Dear, I don’t quite understand.
They’re all quite silly, or else they’re being modest.
But you’re so nice. I know you’ll be honest.
I know I have a sickness, somewhere deep inside.
Tell me, my dear, am I going to die?”
I didn’t know how to respond to her words
The whole situation, to me, seemed rather absurd
I’m a writer, a poet. When I ask, words obey.
But how could I use them when there were no words to say?
Her eyes were right there, so close to me!
Her face and her trust were all I could see
The whole room was spinning. There was nowhere left to run
But I just couldn’t tell her that her life was done!
The doctors wouldn’t say it, and the nurses thought she knew
She wouldn’t listen to anyone else, and I didn’t know what to do
I had a dear friend, once, who’d died in just this way
I’d watched straight to the end, until God took her away
And now here was another, whose face was watching mine
A face which now will haunt me until the end of time
A face I couldn’t lie from, but I couldn’t tell the truth
When all your words have failed you, what on earth are you to do?

Note: The patient mentioned in the poem is a combination of a few different cases.

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