Pectoriloquy |


Elizabeth Burk, PhD
Author and Funding Information

Editor’s Note: The author writes, “The impetus for this poem was to try to describe my own experience of undergoing open heart surgery for mitral valve repair. As a psychologist I am always interested in the varying ways people deal with anxiety and fear. Denial and humor worked effectively for me in this instance as a way to cope with my feelings. I am in private practice and have been writing poetry for about 10 years.”

Reproduction of this article is prohibited without written permission from the American College of Chest Physicians. See online for more details.

Chest. 2012;142(4):1070. doi:10.1378/chest.11-3113
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Whether to bring cotton pajamas
or flannel nightgown, white fluffy slippers
or purple flip-flops, these
were the questions consuming me.
The doctor plotted a minimal invasion
a detour around muscle and bone
with heavy artillery standing by
in the event of an unforeseen uprising.
The word “minimal” signaled No Big Deal
just a little valve job, a minor repair on a torn flap
letting blood leak into other chambers—like the atrium
which sounds better suited for cultivating plants.
Cut, stitch, secure with a tiny ring
to adorn my heart, a decorative piercing—
modern, trendy, sexy even,
while the heart-lung machine drained my blood
faster than Dracula’s kiss, as I lay swooning
wan and pale as Camille. I’d packed Moby Dick,
Anna Karenina, old New Yorkers, yarn to knit,
not anticipating two days in Recovery
tethered to the bed by a catheter, tubes,
besieged at all hours by beeps and bells,
the Ladies Home Journal sliding off the bed
as my eyes closed repeatedly, swathed for days
in stained hospital gowns, then graduated
to a room upstairs where I hauled behind me
the drainage tubes planted in my chest
like Jacob Marley dragging his chains.
Once home in my own bed
my worn comforter tucked under chin
pill bottles placed within easy reach
I wake at night and finally weep.




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