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Pectoriloquy |

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Elayne G. Clift, MA
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Editor’s Note: The author writes, “Recalling the trauma of being a nursing student in the 1960s, I wrote this poem many years later to “exorcise” my sense of guilt and disappointment at not having become a medical professional.”

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


Chest. 2014;145(6):1430. doi:10.1378/chest.13-2286
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In a cloistered convent of blue-frocked novitiates
wearing starched white caps in place of veils,
I tiptoed through curfewed terrors
in the early weeks of nursing school.
“He’s an inguinal aneurysm,”
the head nurse said of my first patient.
“If it blows, press your hand on it,
and yell for help.”
I looked at the shriveled old man
who had no idea he could erupt
into a bleeding geyser, and wondered:
What am I doing here?
Sick with worry, mistakes being murder,
I became ill. “I caught a chill,” I said.
“Don’t you know you get colds from germs?”
the RN snapped. “And you, a nursing student!”
Depressed, I sought counseling.
The mousy shrink with no affect
who wouldn’t acknowledge me,
Mistaking my dining room smile for flirtation,
Accused me of transference,
That Freudian idea being big in the sixties.
So I transferred. Left nursing,
(Wanting, of course, to be a doctor).
All these years and several careers later,
I regret it still, and wonder
what might have been,
Had I had the courage of cap, and veil.


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