Thursday, January 14, 2021

Poetry on Thursday

On Monday night when we went to the ER, I grabbed a tote bag that had my knitting and Poetry of Presence in it. When the doctor was done evaluating John, he asked what I was reading, and we talked about poetry a little bit. He told me that the Journal of the American Medical Association had been publishing poetry for a while and they were all available on JAMA Network. I was surprised to find 56 pages of poems there. I watched multiple people wash their hands as they each entered John's cubicle, so this poem seemed especially appropriate in this time of renewed attention to handwashing for all of us.

Handwashing 0347
by Ron Louie, M.D. 

At this time of night, my hands
know what to do, stubbornly,
poorly pre-programmed
but compelled and automatic still,
with the cold bracing water
and the glop of scented soap
unable to break their rhythm,
movements purposeful and synchronized
not just the deep creases of the palms
but the six webs between the eight fingers
counting the thumbs separately
each grabbed by the opposing fist
bent with friction and twisted firmly,
then sliding each cupped palm
around the flesh beneath the shortest fingers
surprisingly cooler than anywhere else,
moving down to surround each wrist
around and around to a vague spot
halfway to the elbow
with an unthinking brushing
of fingerpads and thumbs against ten shorn nails
before plunging it all
under what is thought to be a glistening absolution,
believing that traces of the past can be further diminished,
the hands now ready to be dry again, ready to go again
no matter what finished at 0344.

JAMA. 2018;319(24):2561. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.0094
You can read more Poetry and Medicine here

I wish you mindfulness, peace, good health, attention to handwashing, and some poetry as this week winds down.


  1. Who knew that JAMA had poetry? As a medical people who get this journal, we obviously have not been paying any attention. I loved this poem, Bonny. I hope John is still doing well.

  2. I. Love. This! An ode to what has become a very regular habit for all of us! I think I need to add "reads poetry" to my physician requirements! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Somewhere in the recent past (last year?), I read an article about a physician who used poetry as part of their regular treatment practice with patients in the hospital. (I'm sure I'm getting this wrong, but close.) (I'll look for the article and check myself.) Anyway, I think poetry in the hospital would be a powerful tool for healing. Thanks for sharing this wonderful poem. XO

  4. It is amazing that something as mundane as washing hands could be so poetic! Kudos to JAMA for publishing poetry. I'm convinced that the humanities are going to play a huge part in getting us out of this mess we're in, and I've always believed that the arts, in all their forms, are important to our health, especially our mental health. I love that the doctor took time to have a meaningful conversation with you; that is something so rare and special these days.

    I hope John is still doing well today!

  5. How cool that the JAMA has poetry! And good to know that you saw so many washing their hands prior to seeing John. Hoping he is doing better!

  6. This is a wonderful poem and provides such a unique perspective on how a doctor must feel about washing their hands and the symbolism of it all. Thank you.

  7. oh wow, Bonny - what a powerful poem. (and sure hoping y'all have had a couple quieter days ... at home!)

  8. Cool find!! I can't wait to share with my nurse friends

  9. wow! Who knew that the medical journals were into poetry. When my husband went to urgent eye care (everything was fine) the med student saw that I was reading 'where ever you go, there you are' and we had a great discussion!

  10. Could be my favorite yet! Have a wonderful and hopefully relaxing weekend Bonny! xo

  11. This is just a lovely poem. I like how the most ordinary action or thing can be a thing of beauty from the mind of a poet.

  12. So sorry to hear about the complications to your husbands procedure. I love that the doctor took a moment to speak about poetry to you and to point you in the direction for more. Stay safe.


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