The Hand in Repose by Amy Haddad
We start as newborns with hands
tightly closed for protection.
We must learn to open our hands.
Observe your own hands, shake out
the tension, let one hand droop.
See how it closes into a capital “C”
as fingers curve toward the palm.
The flawless mechanics of flexor
muscles and fascia cords
win the ongoing tug of war
with weaker extensors to close
You are here to learn the basics of care:
how to touch a patient as if someone
lives there. You will have endless
opportunities to practice arranging
heads, necks, arms and legs.
Paralyzed patients may ask to have
their fingers straightened out,
curved around a hand towel to guard
against inevitable contractures.
Unconscious patients require
artful positioning and passive movement.
Hands are plied through a range of motions—
thumb to each finger,
twist of the wrist, wave bye-bye—
to keep joints flexible,
digits moveable in case they wake.
The commitment of caregivers
often diminishes over months and years.
Maneuvering bent limbs and fingers
seems a pointless task.
The “C” then curls into an “O”
and “O” and “o” and “o.”
The bones change too but you
can still pull a washcloth through
the tunnel the hand becomes
to clean the cheesy smell
that ferments within and cut
the nails that dig into the palm.
Finally, the fist closes tight.
Not a ghost of chance
of opening without a fight.
Amy Haddad, PhD, MSN, MFA, FAAN has educated nurses and pharmacists at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska since 1988 where she also held the Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss Endowed Chair in the Health Sciences. In addition, Amy served as Director of the Center for Health Policy and Ethics at Creighton University from 2005 – 2018 and now holds the rank of Professor Emerita. She was selected in 2001 to be part of the Pew National Fellowship Program for Carnegie Scholars, studying the impact of patient simulations on health professional learning. She has also been a pioneer in the use of poetry, creative prose and narrative writing as approaches to teaching healthcare ethics.
Amy is the 2019 recipient of the Annals of Internal Medicine poetry prize for “Families Like This” for the best poem published in the journal. She won third-place for the 2019 Kalanithi Writing Awards from Stanford University for her poem “Dark Rides.” Her chapbook, “The Geography of Kitchens,” was published by Finishing Line Press in 2021. Her first poetry collection, “An Otherwise Healthy Woman,” was published by Backwaters Press, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press in early 2022. “An Otherwise Healthy Woman” was awarded twice in the 2022 AJN Book of the Year Awards: first place in the Creative Works Category and second place in the Professional Issues Category.