Unit 8aSection 5 aExercise 17aMedical Uncertainty & Errora Explaining Risks to Patients

Clinical correlate #8 Medical uncertainty
Explaining risks to patients

Veneta Masson is a nurse and poet living in Washington, D.C. She has written three books of essays and poems, drawing on her experiences over twenty years as a family nurse practitioner and director of an inner-city clinic. Information about her new poetry collection Clinician's Guide to the Soul is available at sagefemmepress.com.

Ms. Masson writes the following about the poem: "Sometimes my muse takes the form of a curmudgeonly old physician who's weary of gold standards and unrealistic expectations about what medicine can offer. But he's also got a wry sense of humor and a useful perspective on health and illness. It's his voice you hear in this poem."

Masson's poem and this biographical introduction were published in Pulse magazine. See http://www.pulsemagazine.org.

“Reference Range”, by Veneta Masson, RN

Your tests show
the numbers 73, 90, 119 and 2.5,
the letter A,
the color yellow,
a straight line interrupted by a repeating pattern
of steeples and languid waves,
a gray asymmetrical oval
filled with fine white tracery,
35 seconds,
100 millimeters,
II.

I'm not sure what to make of these.
With the possible exception of II,
which like all Roman numerals
is subject to misinterpretation,
I see no cause for alarm.
I admit to a preference for low numbers,
the apothecary system over the metric
(my age, perhaps, and distrust of pure logic)
and the letter W,
though most of my colleagues favor
M.

I think you can be happy with yellow
and, based on my experience,
the fact that the straight line is punctuated.
Seconds, millimeters--I marvel at their finitude,
but this oval, so intricate, so light,
might well contain a universe.
Is it normal, you ask.
Normal's a shell game you seldom win.
Take my advice. Enjoy good health
not as your due but the blessing it is
like Spring, laughter,
death.

With the author's permission.

Study Questions

1. Compare this poem to Szymborksa’s "The Kindness of the Blind". What different cultures are at play here?

2. Whose ‘uncertainty’ in interpreting the lab results is it?

3. What value system does this poem reflect? Critique?