By: Elizabeth Mitchell, M.D.

From the moment you arrive I know you are
on the tightrope between life and death.
Here and not I see you
balanced high above me on the wire
where you rock and teeter
your skin wet and cool the color of sand.
I hear you call your final thoughts
“tell my wife I love her” spilling from your lips in
breathless sighs like smoke curling upward in a gentle breeze.
My heart sinks, my breath catches.
I stumble beneath you as you tilt and wobble high above me
one foot on the wire one in the air your arms lifted up like a dancer.

And then you are off
Your soul lifts up and hovers above us while we watch you fall.
We run from side to side we hold out our hands.
We watch as you twist and turn in the wind blowing from above.
We catch glimpses of a life in passing as you fly above us
taking your secrets and dreams away.
We watch but cannot see that single moment
when you disappear leaving just an empty shell
the air in the room sucked out
extinguished like the life that was before.

I have seen this many times
the strangers and once
My father, my north star, my beacon
leaving behind the trinkets of a life well lived.
These things I cannot part with
scattered around my room like amulets
wearing his clothes as if to feel his warm embrace.

I find your wife. I sit and tell her. I tell her that you love her.
I hold her hand and feel her sorrow as she leans against me
warm tears spilling down my blue scrubs.
I keep my own at bay pushing from my eyes like needles
watching from the edge of someone’s life and death.

Faculty Author: Elizabeth Mitchell, MD