The first thing she noticed,
Was her heart fluttering off and on,
The doctor saw her pale,
And iron pills were called upon.
But her pump kept racing,
Very quickly at night,
Straight to the emergency room,
Where petechiae came in plain sight.
We will take some blood they said,
To see if your cells are low,
Whirlwind of tubes and needles later,
Blasts on her peripheral smear show.
We need more blood for cytometry,
The translator deciphers in horn-rimmed glasses,
You may have leukemia says the doctor,
And a limp handkerchief she passes.
Yesterday she didn’t finish her English homework,
Today she is learning new vocabulary:
Platelets, bone marrow, lumbar punctures,
And how to beat her newfound adversary.
The next day I read from a screen,
17-year-old with new diagnosis B-ALL,
I look up the disease and prepare for rounds,
And think of how to explain a white blood cell.
Ten people in coats of varying lengths,
Crowd into her small sized room,
To tell her tests have come back,
She looks at us like we’re in costume.
Leucemia? She cries out loud,
What was a possibility is now a sentence.
To months of nausea and hair loss,
Their faces show pity but mine burns with repentance.
If it were me in this bed,
I wouldn’t want to be told this way,
With everyone peering down at my disheveled gown,
Like I’m on a runway.
I recently spent a week on the inpatient pediatric hematology-oncology service and was absolutely floored by the resilience of the patients I met. I especially felt connected to the patient in this poem since I saw her from the very beginning of her story at the hospital to the day she received her first day of chemotherapy. Since this was one of my first times evaluating a new patient for leukemia, I was very aware of her interactions with the other providers, which inspired this poem.