by Aurora Levins Morales

Why do they call us "the patient"
We are not patient. We endure.
The anxious tedium of public hospital
waiting rooms, because waiting
is the punishment of the poor;
interminable buses to inconvenient places
where we count up our cash, calculating
whether we can take a cab home
instead of riding our exhaustion;
the angry contempt of specialists, taught to believe
any pain they cannot explain is insubordinate,
deliberate, offensive.

We are not patient. We are denied.
Not medically necessary, they say, not proven.
Feel free to appeal. We are experts at appealing,
so we begin again, gathering documents, faxing releases,
collecting letters and signatures,
giving our numbers, all our numbers,
to dozens of indifferent, underpaid clerks,
stacking up evidence for the hearing, where we will declare
as civilly as we can to the affronted panels
that it is necessary that we breathe,
sleep, digest, be eased of pain, have medicines
and therapies and machines,
and that we not be required to beg.

While I am waiting, I am using my pen,
steadily altering words.
Where the card says "medically indigent"
I cross it out and write indignant.
Where my records say "chemically sensitive"
I write chemically assaulted, chemically wounded,
chemically outraged. On the form listing risk factors
for cancer, I write in my candidates: agribusiness,
air fresheners, dry cleaning, river water, farm life,
bathing, drinking, eating, vinyl, cosmetics, plastic, greed.

I am making an intricate graffiti poem
out of mountains of unnecessary paperwork.
Where the doctor has written "disheveled" I write untamed.
Where it says "refused treatment", I write refused to be lied to.
Where it says safe, side effects minimal
I say prove it. What do you mean minimal?
What do you mean side? I write
unmarketed effects unmentionable.
Where it asks, authorization? I write inherent,
authorized from birth.

Are you the patient? she asks, ready to transfer my call.
I say only with my own sweet, brave body.
I say, Not today, no. I have no patience left.
I am the person who is healing, I say,
in spite of everything.
I will have to put you on hold she says. Yes,
hold me I say. That would be good.

Last updated March 22, 2023