I Didn’t Know

A “list” poem, written a few years ago.


Green walls

not green-shoot new-life green,

rotting-flesh dying-toad green

Hospital green,


I sit, eyes darting

walls ceiling floor   bed

brain dying, husband lying

there, knowing

pain   is the last to go

names—mine, our daughter’s, his own—

and streets and who’s president and how old are you and what year is it

those leave first

and their leaving leaves me alone

in the green-walled trauma center at William Beaumont Hospital,

January 11, 2001

Where I sit and wait for—


Adam Kerr

comes in

I didn’t know I loved Adam Kerr


emergency room trauma doctor Adam Kerr

“He’s a very sick boy.”

Always they say “boy”

strange even in this strange

man, boy? bleeding brain, all the same

blood-thinner thinned blood bleeding

inside his head

too much to tell where it started

or what to do to make it stop

Vitamin K stat

thicken it fast

so fast

his St. Jude titanium heart valve

might stop

Adam Kerr does not lie

“He might not make it.

We will try.”

I didn’t know how much I loved people who don’t lie and who will try

long into the night they try


tests plasma vitamin K wait

Cardiologists neurosurgeons doctors of all persuasions

And nurses

gentle, let me stay

I sit in a straight-backed chair against

the toad-green wall

Marlene comes

hugs brings me a cheeseburger

“you have to eat!”

I didn’t know how much I loved Marlene

or cheeseburgers.


Shifts change, no more Adam Kerr

new doctors new nurses

freight elevator

up we go

Neurological Trauma Center, Critical Care Room 3.

vacuum-sealed doors

glass walls

here is where the hotshot nurses work

wires, tubes, vitamin K plasma beep stat wait

our very own hotshot nurse

goes about herself

blonde hair, sure voice, strong chin, furrowed brow

I don’t like when nurses furrow brows.

Every hour she points to me

“who is this?”

every hour he doesn’t know

“Move your hands” he does

“Move your feet” he does that too.

“these are good signs”

let me stay

I didn’t know how much I loved the blonde nurse who let me stay


I talk

because maybe he hears

about fishing, the river,

the time Sally

caught that trout

and when we thought she fell in the deep hole

and he jumped in

the river

in his shoes and clothes

I didn’t know how much I loved our life.


You will fish again

you will do everything again I promise I promise

I should have known they were wrong

the first hospital,

migraine what

should have insisted harder.

I was the ambulance

that brought him here

finally late


“two acute subdural hematomas”

says Dr. Ho

big gray-haired husky humble neurosurgeon

two big trapped blood globs

under leather

it’s like a sponge, the brain

(it can absorb a lifetime

and have a lifetime

wrung from it)

“his only chance for a normal life”

kind eyes, hands strong

“Always take your only chance”

my husband would say

but he can’t

so I say it for him

I didn’t know how much I loved having an only chance.


Blood is thicker than

It’s time to go 11 PM

empty hospital except for…

Dr. Ho

carries a plain wooden box

he made himself

it holds his saw his drill

tools of the trade

all in a day’s work

“you never know with brain surgery”

gurney rolls away

we stay

friends and family

somewhere knowing

saw whirrs dust flies

in Area D

big quiet emanates from every corner

taking words and laughter and carrying them away


1:00 AM, critical care post-op

glass door slides

my breath catches

Richard is

sitting up

gauze turban

bright eyes smiling

right at me

“Hello” he says

like he’s been to the store and back

not blind not paralyzed

“Hello” I answer.

I didn’t know how much I loved the word.



(C) 2015 Susan Walsh