Bad Combination


  • Supervising Editor: David C. Cone, MD.

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.”