By Susan E. Wagner, BA, ABD
Late on my second day in the hospital last winter, an elderly woman arrived and took the bed next to me. She slept through that night. The next morning she woke to a foreign environment.
She shouted, “Help me. Help me,” over and over. A nurse rushed in and tried to explain to the woman where she was. The woman kept shouting. The nurse explained that the woman’s own home health aide would be there soon. That didn’t work either. More and now louder shouting continued all morning.
By afternoon, the woman was hoarse and the aide finally arrived. The aide went immediately to the woman’s side to try to calm her. Nothing worked. The woman didn’t seem to recognize the aide. It was clear she was disoriented. The aide huddled with the nurse and explained the level of dementia the woman exhibited before this latest incident sent her to the hospital.
Of course, I heard every word, there being no privacy in hospital rooms.
The woman’s daughter arrived by mid-afternoon and immediately set about convincing her mother that she did indeed recognize her own daughter and the aide. Unconvinced, the woman continued her cries for help. The daughter tried for two hours (Yes, I timed it.). The elderly woman never seemed to tire despite her hoarseness, which greatly embarrassed the daughter, who apologized to me.
The aide and the daughter left together for a late lunch. I decided to make my first solo trip to the bathroom. Minutes later, I was heading back to bed and the cries increased in strength as I began to pass my roommate. By then the nurses were tired of running in. No one came. So, I walked slowly to the woman’s side and took her hand. She turned to look at me.
“You’re all right,” I said. “You’re in a hospital. Your daughter and aide are here too. You really will be all right.” I stood there and held her hand in mine, rubbing the back of her hand gently. After a short time, she quieted. A nurse came in to check IV’s, nodded to me and then left.
Not much later the daughter returned with half her lunch and was surprised to see me there with her mother. I explained I only meant to comfort her and returned to my bed.
Each time I went by the woman I smiled and said hello. She managed a smile only once, but the cries for help stopped.
This incident touched me deeply. Many years ago, my 89 year old grandmother was frequently in the hospital as she battled emphysema. Many times she too was confused and disoriented. I would hold her hand and softly tell her, “It’s all right,” just as I did with the woman in the hospital.
I tell this story because it is the perfect catalyst for a new poem or series of poems. Its essence captures a profound moment for me, a brief touch of something divine.
Good poems are so much more than good words and perfect structure. They should connect us to a deeper part of ourselves that yearns to be expressed. Inside lives our passions, waiting for us and that day we birth them onto paper.
We all hope to write good poetry. Good poetry, like any type of good art, captures a moment in time, a sliver of our thoughts and feelings about something that demands from us a response. And respond we must, for we are poets in our souls. We are gifted with the need to express some part of whatever it is we think divine. We may struggle to capture the perfect word or the perfect phrase, but then we send them out to the universe to be released, for that is where they belong – amidst the stars.