Doris had smoked Lucky Strikes for 55 years;
but her alveoli eventually popped like party balloons;
emphysema turned her lungs into dead space;
she inhaled a steady flow of bottled oxygen.
Her latest Lucky, lit with an old Zippo lighter,
ignited her O2, too—the flash of flames
blistered her cheeks, charred her tender nares;
her eyelashes curled as if by a cruel beautician,
eyebrows all but erased; her polyester nightgown,
blue with yellow daisies, melted into her chest.
In the ER the smell of burned human flesh—
fetid, but strangely sweet, rode high in my nose—
I chased it away with thoughts of wood smoke;
seasoned cherry, the best in my opinion,
or the waft from Walt’s Hitching Post
open pit barbeque in Covington.
Her hoarse, singed voice cried out:
“Doc, pleeease! Something for the pain!”
We rushed to pop an IV into her thin arm—
merciful morphine; now she sucked precious oxygen
through a tight mask that puckered her scorched face;
I observed all this, without much fire in my empathy furnace.
I regarded her ribs as she heaved breaths in and out,
like the tired bellows in an old steel factory;
her skin was leathery and wrinkled, as soft to the touch
as the chaps of the Marlboro man; her upper lip had weeping
blisters with remnants of lipstick; I imagined her ashtray
at home, filled with Lucky butts, each with a pink halo kiss.
“When will it stop burning?” she moaned
“You’re probably through the worst of it.”
As I slathered her face with burn ointment
I was pretty sure she would live—
there was a toughness about her—
I was pretty sure, too, that she had not had her last
Lucky Strike—some doctorly advice was in order:
“Doris,—cigarettes and oxygen—bad combination,”
“Yeah, Doc,” she grimaced, “Tell me about it.”