An elderly woman with a broken hip
A homeless man with an abscess
A child with a fever
A woman with a stopped heart
There were too many of us in the trauma room, swarming and thrumming
like cicadas, wings on wings
The nurse performing CPR frantically searched the room
for a replacement, her eyes landing on me. I held my casted
arm up in surrender,
my ailment poured out like water,
bones on display.
I ran to the supply closet, retrieved as many
items as I could & delivered them to the
nurses’ station as penitence—
A paramedic asked about my arm & I told
him how the limb had been pressed into
the ground, blood rising in droplets to
form a delicate shoot system
in need of repair.
With the [good] hand, I held up a blue plastic tote
full of specimens to be taken to the lab:
A way to prove my usefulness,
to show how tightly I wanted to
hold it all together.
Occupational Therapy (or, A Recovery)
Each day, we’d unwind the twine
keeping together the complicated ecology:
To wash the skin,
to clean the gutter splint
with small squares of cloth soaked in alcohol.
The therapist worked to exhume
what was buried under adhesion,
my body gifting heat and water in
exchange for clean bone.
What happened in my hand and arm was sudden but
the incident to my father’s body was much more complex,
damage creeping up like ground fog until it touched
everything in nervous system and skeleton.
There is no simplicity in the restoration of vertebrae—
The blood must find the fractures,
fine as gossamer,
and fill them with binders, proteins, and hematoma.
No one can predict the long-term effects of the trauma
or the rebirth:
What can be regained or relearned and
what will dissolve like a days-old bruise
just under the skin.and keep the rest—
The surgeon once examined my hand, scar over scar
over scar, asked if I’d considered joint replacement.
I thought: How could I?
Hasn’t enough already been taken?
When parts of you are damaged and removed,
they put back what they think will work
and keep the rest—
Occupational therapy is for women
and their families. A shared experiment,
it’s the process of planting and uprooting,
Occupational therapy taught me to see myself in others—
When the man with the cast on his left arm came for an appointment, a familiar pain tenderized my
bones. At fourteen, my left wrist caught in some railing on a playground and the epiphyseal plates
separated like an open mouth. We were on a fieldtrip and while we waited for the bus, my science
teacher told me to plunge my arm into a blue cooler of soft drinks. On the ride home, a friend said,
If you have to get a cast, you should choose pink.
Three years after the left arm, my right arm was in a cast
and I understood how animal-like we are. How human.
Like my father, the man with the cast had a fractured neck, his head held in place by a vast
apparatus. In the hospital following my father’s accident, the doctor said
and we pictured a ripe fig, split
after falling from a tree.
The man with the cast told me about his own accident in the snow:
How his neck had compressed with the force of his body moving head-first
against an unmoving object
How his brain had risen with traumatic injury
Because of my father, I knew the depth of these wounds, a calculus in the lowest parts of the body
that can’t be reached or scraped away. I knew these lingering wounds so well that I could have
pointed them out on x-rays or scans,
but only if I could have willed myself to look at them—