Treatment of Failure

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The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Edward Fitzgerald, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Stranded together on a dimly lit beach,
both lately dragged from the waters of sleep,
a lone soul who’s floundering, drowning in air,
and—flaccid and feeble, and feeling defenceless—
a translucent creature of obtunded senses,
the night watches blurring in a thousand yard stare.

All this last week, I’ve charted your course
as you tacked back away from these perilous shores,
chest-sounding, deaf to your treasures and fears;
but now, you are foundering, fighting for breath,
with unseeing eyes and fast failing strength,
yielding the helm to those base mutineers.

The waves are still pounding, but not as they ought,
and surf over shingle confirms my first thought:
the whole ship is sinking as the bilge waters rise.
I pre-consciously reach for a suitable bailer,
that quantum of knowledge marked, Treatment of Failure,
drug, route and dosage, all faithfully scribed.

The dove that I send out, finding heartsease,
leads you back down the Starling: as the dark flood recedes
to a soft ebb and flow, once more you can breathe.
But I want to be sure, so petition the nurse who
inhabits the shadows: “What else should we do?”
“You’re the Doctor,” she says pointedly, “you tell me.”

So, I slip away to the Casualty room
to seek reassurance in a comforting tome—
diagnosis, differential, first line, alternates—
but brief moments later my bleep proclaims (MENE):
the Kingdom of Knowledge is engulfed by the sea.
And I helplessly watch, as you sink without trace.

Five years of training at medical school,
six months of work in a teaching hospital,
(TEKEL) are weighed in the scales and found wanting:
all those stowed facts, of no use at all;
and as the solitary helmsman, who else can I call?
I beseech the night nurse: “Is there something.., anything?”

A glimmer of hope: “We could, I suppose—
but I really don’t think so. Just let her go.”
Knowing I’ve failed you, I’ve no way to constrain
the anguish and grief of that desolate ocean.
(PERES) Unannounced, the office door opens
and your daughter’s shown in: “The Doctor will explain.”


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