More From the Fifth Floor: In Honor of the Nurses and Aides

Here is to the caregivers of all those who are sick and injured. Not angels, but true human beings all.  I can offer no greater compliment.

Good Ham

 These are the hands that care for you.

Rheena is from Nepal, has strong short fingers,

a nurses aid, she asks me about my bracelet,

a beautifully carved Tibetan rosary of skulls.

I practice Zen Buddhism, she practices Tibetan,

she has found a haven of practice, climate and culture

in Boulder, far from her ancestral home of blind children and poverty.


Louda has slender fingers.   She is beautiful.

In her late 20s, she and her brothers left Tibet

seven years ago, to escape the Han Chinese. 

She talks of her Buddhism, the difficulty

of being Tibetan and Buddhist in her own country,

talks of herding the family yaks and one evening,

as a young child, unable to find the herd,

and crying for her sisters who came for her.

She and her brothers dream of opening a Tibetan restaurant in Boulder.

Claire and I tell her we will be there, among her first customers.


Tallia is young blond and pretty.  Her hands are competent, steady,

her fingers are long with neatly trimmed nails.

She has a seven year old daughter

with cystic fibrosis.

Ah, life is hard.  We all have our karma,

even the young.  Why is this so?

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us

that happiness and suffering are not

opposites, you can’t have one

without the other.  Still it is hard, and we strive

to walk the path towards happiness

for all beings.

We talk of karma, God, her own off-again,

on-again Buddhist practice, her brother-in-law a Buddhist monk.

I tell her I go to the Zen center most Sundays, sit almost every day.

Nothing mystical, a practice I have to keep me steady

in the face of the storm. 

Louda says, she can tell, something about me.

I don’t know,

I’m just an ordinary man,

I’ve left my share of trainwrecks

along the way, no need to bring any more pain

into the world, God knows, we’ve got far more

than our share.  I’m not planning

on leaving this world anytime soon,

but when I do, I don’t want to leave

a mess behind.


Carl is a big guy, I guess you might call him burley,

a damn good oncology nurse.  I think he’s from Colorado,

born and bred.  His wife is a small animal vet, so they’ve got

all the medical bases covered. He has big hands, almost

as big as mine, but dials his grip way back

when he shakes my hand, knowing

without my telling him, that I am no longer

what I once was.


Then there is Joleda, the Polish nurse,

hands made for rough honest work,

strong and broad.  She has a rounded Slavik

beauty, face and features of attractive curves, light skin.


My sister is on the phone while Joleda

is in the room and I ask Jeanne to sing to her.

She knows what I want, launches into a song

our mother taught her.  Slovak, not Polish,

but Joleda catches most of the words –

“Hey pada, pada, oh chi che, studa bi moya,

studa bi poya, oh chi che..”

I can’t remember the rest and don’t trust my spelling.

Our mother, 91 and happy in her unraveling eternal present,

no longer remembers what the words mean.

But Joleda laughs and as she leaves I say “Dobre shenka’

and she laughs again.  Dobre Shenka, a greeting from the Baltic

to the black Sea, the peasant heart of Eastern Europe.

“Good ham.”

These workers who take care of us

in our extremity.

Good ham. Good work.

To care for others.

What more could any honest human being  want?



3 thoughts on “More From the Fifth Floor: In Honor of the Nurses and Aides

  1. Damn, Mike! I’d publish a new book of your stuff if this was the only example! Nice poem too. Health care in Colorado sounds a lot nicer than the county hospital I was in! You dog you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *