I, along with thousands of students and young physicians, received a formative part of my medical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. Ever since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, this venerable institution of both teaching and patient care has remained closed, and may remain so indefinitely. The following poem has special poignancy to me, as well as to anyone who has walked through those stone portals.
CHARITY HOSPITAL, New Orleans
1735 – 2005
Generations climbed her stone steps,
disappeared for years inside her gray walls,
learned to live thirty-six hour days
and then to sleep without dreams.
We passed through admit rooms,
studied gunshot wounds and abdominal pain,
absorbed impermanence and accepted death.
We walked the deep night wards,
silent save for an occasional moan,
listened for the absence of breath.
We emerged changed –
not more compassionate perhaps,
but calmer, sadder, more resigned.
From those years much was lost,
lives and stories forever gone.
Our hands remember though
how to wield a knife,
separate good tissue from bad,
preserve vessel and nerve
and something more –
how to touch a dying patient
whisper a wordless benediction
and receive a blessing in return.
Wayne F. Larrabee, Jr, MD