Mr. Sanchez was my hospital roommate for three days
when I had to go and have my aortic valve replaced.
He was 83 years old, deaf in one ear,
and scheduled for a triple bypass.
He had near constant minor pains
and was always pressing the nurse call button
and describing his current level of discomfort:
It’s a one, now…or a two…wait…three…definitely a three…
A nurse would come and give him handfuls
of little pills that dissolved beneath his tongue.
Oh…it’s back down to a two, now…one…zero, it’s zero now, thank you…
The nurse would go away and within a few minutes
Mr. Sanchez would be pressing at the button again.
Nurse, it’s back to a two…maybe two and a half…
The nurse would return with more little pills
and it went on like this throughout the day.
Whenever the nurses changed shifts
the new nurse would have to check Mr. Sanchez’ vitals
and ask him the same series of questions:
Did you used to smoke, Mr. Sanchez?
Oh yes, too much.
For how many years did you smoke?
I started at 16, so about 60 years I guess.
I usta smoke about 3 packs a day.
Oh yes, I was a merchant marine, and that’s what we did –
smoke and drink, smoke and drink…
You have a tattoo, Mr. Sanchez?
I sure as hell do.
Mr. Sanchez pushed up the sleeve of his gown
to reveal the face of a pretty young woman
and a faded name scrawled beneath.
I got this in Okinawa in 1963.
Mr. Sanchez sat up and started
to tell the story of the woman’s face
upon his arm but the nurses only
wanted to know what color of jello
he preferred for lunch.
He always asked for red
but they only had yellow
About the Author: William Taylor Jr. lives and writes in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, and a volume of fiction. His work has been published widely in journals across the globe, including Rattle, The New York Quarterly, and The American Journal of Poetry. He is a five time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a recipient of the 2013 Kathy Acker Award. Pretty Words to Say, (Six Ft. Swells Press, 2020) is his latest collection of poetry.
More by William Taylor Jr.
Image Credit: drawing from Outlines of Human Physiology by George Hayward (1834) public domain