‘Tired and afraid’ is a poem that could be about any one of a number of patients I have met over the past few years. But its not. It’s about a man I recently met whose words are hard to forget. I doubt I was of much help.
The curtains pushed aside
Show an old man in bed.
Fear lives in two dark eyes
Staring from his tired head.
His knuckled grip is strong,
He shakes like a sailor,
But his next breaths are long,
Payment for his labor.
Underneath his sun-beaten shell,
Sliding sinews bring bones upright.
What his muscle memory might tell
Given time before the birth of night.
The chart shows no sign of fever
And his heart beats just as it should,
The numbers say he’ll live forever,
All of the peaks and troughs look good.
My gut knows the answer,
But I ask anyway,
I am here to help you,
Why are you here today?
He says, my problem’s this,
Then looks me in the eye,
I’m just too tired to live
And I’m too afraid to die.