Steady Hand

Love + Medicine Steady Hand

Steady Hand

The Bris. The celebration of removal of foreskin
The first of his covenants with our Creator
Not in the presumed sterility of hospital walls
But done in one’s home surrounded by family and deli

Some choose to step back
Shout out the obligatory “mazel tov” on cue.
Others crowd around close to the makeshift surgical center
All are subject to the litany of moyel jokes that muster up an awkward chuckle

No one is as queasy as the infant’s father
Sweating, praying for a steady hand.
Questioning why didn’t we do this in the hospital, where it’s “clean”
Beginning to question why to do this at all,
Take a knife to his son, only 8 days on this Earth

Sucking on gauze soaked in Manishewitz,  the child lies peacefully
Placed on a pillow held by the Godfather, the highest of honors
He is then handed over to the  moyel who slices off the foreskin
The piece of flesh left on the table for burial In the yard.

As the generations before and the generations after,
Jews celebrate this act
Recognize the solemnity of the day
Feel a sense of tradition, respect and honor it

For the mother and father it marks a milestone
Of trusting and letting go
Loving, forgiving and coveting this child.
Always hoping for that steady hand

– Anne Koplin, M.D.

There was a Space. Part 1

I always wanted a screened in porch, a four season room. The outside of a house always interested me more than the inside. True zen, I believe, can only be found in nature.

In this poem, I parallel the changes in nature to the transformation going on between two lovers.

There Was A Space. Part I

There was a space shared. After the transition
from meetings in cafes, restaurants and such.
A place where strangers became lovers, the tide shifted to intimacy
It was the place where the journey continued, out of public eye.

An all season room, built lovingly over a period of years,
added on to a nondescript box of a house.
The one room that best captured the grounded spirit of its creator
Beams of solid wood and windows floor to ceiling
Wicker furniture, crystals, an ashtray
Floor unfinished, rough cement
A mini swinging door to accommodate the cats

The sunroom, for winter, crackling fires in the potbelly stove perched on cinder blocks
Sipping tea or red wine. Sharing stories, laughing or sitting silently, always touching. For hours.
Reaching into the basket for wood, replenishing the flames
At times making love, far too cozy to climb the steps to the bedroom.

The sunroom, for spring, watching the flowers burst through the earth
Every day looking for new pops of color
Listening to the river, water rhythmically rolling down the rocks, breaking up the ice.
Each stone in the water’s path placed thoughtfully to create the perfect sound

The sunroom, for summer, a cacophony of scents and color and sounds
Strolling in naked after showering, heat bearing down
Watching the birds as they delight in bathing in the cool, shallow river
Observing the cats, such hedonists, sprawled out in sunny spots

The sunroom, for fall, the swapping of color,
Screens replaced with glass as the wind shifts
Leaves changing and drying and shedding
The anticipation of winter, of turning inward

The sunroom, for lovers, a hidden oasis
A place unplugged, where feelings moved from simple attraction to soaring love
Where daily miracles outside in nature were fully paralleled inside
Two unlikely individuals, one earth and one water, merged to became one

Then the room was gone, like a hostile takeover
He, adept at handling the trauma of sudden loss, silently accepted his fate
She, incredulous, vowed to fight, to get it back.
His passivity was maddening
He insisted “it doesn’t matter where we are!”

The future of the lovers almost instantly became fuzzy and uncertain
Although they vowed not to attach to stones, they had lost their bearings
How much of it was space dependent
“A new start” he declared and she was threatened
Their fate yet undetermined.

screenedporch 2-2

1217 Miles

As part of my work as a psychiatrist, I did a stint in Telepsychiatry. This is providing psychiatric care via Skype, to those in need, to individuals who do not have physicians that are easily accessible. Montana, called ‘Big Skype Country’ in jest, is one of those places.  There is a major shortage of physicians there and I was recruited to see patients via computer in an outpatient facility in Montana.

I received my license to practice medicine in Montana after a few months. my laptop was programmed to see patients and made HIPPA compliant (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, for protecting sensitive patient data). I removed all of my Brett Favre and Green Bay Packer photos from the wall and replaced them with my medical diplomas to serve as a more appropriate Skype backdrop as I sat at my desk at home.

I was skeptical. Would I be able to “connect” with my patients, to recognize all the subtle nuances that are so crucial to diagnose and treat patients? As psychiatrists, we have no blood tests, procedures or sophisticated means to make a diagnosis. We rely on self report, on our own perceptions and clinical judgment.

The experience montanathere was fascinating and I feel like I really made a difference. Instead of driving for 3-4 hours or waiting months for an appointment, they came to me. I wrote this poem to convey my thoughts about my work there.

 

1217 Miles Between Us

 

Strangers facing each other
On a screen.
A leap of faith
taken by both sides

Many have never seen
their reflection on a computer screen,
They are reassured.
She is there,
You just cannot touch her.
They talk.
Asked about what they eat,
how they shit and
how they sleep.
Asked about
crimes,
prison,
alcohol and drugs.
Passion,
intimacy,
work and
family.
They talk and
the barriers of miles fall.

Grizzlies, black bears, floods and spiders.
And ‘green cards’,
their psychiatric diagnosis
a license for medical marijuana.
Extolling the merits
of Mary Jane,
to calm shattered nerves.

In the end of the day
it is love and work.
Love and work.
Not enough of either, or too much work
1217 miles
and yet,
Love and work
unite us
as the central theme.

40 minutes later
we part.
They marvel at the technology,
in their own ability
to open up.
To a total stranger.
Twelve hundred
seventeen
miles
away

Written by Anne Koplin, MD

 

Most of All

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Audry Hepburn

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He’s got it right, the friend who wrote
about a woman wearing a man’s shirt,
the way she can pull his scent to her
and feel his arms around her again.
I think a man likes to see a woman
dressed in his shirt: the sleeves
dangling and the buttons and holes
that go together backwards, the stupid
grin on his face when she tells him
she’s going to pee, and he asks to watch.
She wraps the shirt more tightly
tries to fit her body into every
stitch and seam. She likes the way
the shirt holds her, so soft and so manlike:
that, and the sigh of his breath
in every thread, Yes, that most of all.

Karla Huston, Wisconsin poet

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Shadow Cookies

Black night, sliver of moon making
no promise.
The small sliver, barely noticed by humans sheltered in their homes. If it seeps into their field of vision, they may glance from their heated hibernation.
Tell a stranger on the street to look up at the moon and they will curl a perplexed, patronizing brow for your unsolicited order. For the moon misses nothing, and holds it’s secrets tight.

Others are more than mere gawkers. They brave the cold to make a visit to the moon. Even when it appears the moon has turned it’s back. They intrude, not allowing for withdrawal
and silence.
They love, no matter if the object of their love is constantly changing. And they get little in return. And are often ignored and pushed away. Their egoless selves keep coming back.

And then, out of the darkness,
a crescendo of light flows back into
the empty sphere.
With each day, pieces of shadowed crevices are bathed in a silver glow.

The full moon, the ‘grande dame’ receives the highest of praises.
Bright, fearless and unflappable;
the delusion of perfection.
Seeing the earth below and
Shedding light onto remote
sacred spaces.
To continue on, to surrender control,
recognizing its weightless suspension in space as an opportunity to explore.

– Anne Koplin