Supervising Editor: David C. Cone, MD.
Article first published online: 20 SEP 2012
© 2012 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine
Academic Emergency Medicine
Volume 19, Issue 10, page 1216, October 2012
How to Cite
Zink, B. (2012), Bad Combination. Academic Emergency Medicine, 19: 1216. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2012.01444.x
- Issue published online: 15 OCT 2012
- Article first published online: 20 SEP 2012
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.”