The Machine Pauses – Three Days in ICU

A collection by Lawrence “Mack in Texas” Hall

The Machine Pauses – Three Days in ICU

Within a Dark-Lit Egg

Mechanical Air
Mechanical Light
Electronic Beepings
Procrustes is a Short, Bitter Man Who Doesn’t Like Anyone

Mechanical Air
On the day Papa Benedict died
I lived
And so prayed with him
As the electronics beeped in the new year

Mechanical Light
A crucifix on the wall faded away
And gas was silent in a tube
And when the haze was gone
The crucifix was still there

Electronic Beepings
I turned to my wristwatch
But it was dead

Procrustes is a Short, Bitter Man Who Doesn’t Like Anyone
Tubes in both arms, and arms must not be bent
Hard plastic bubbles beneath weary sheets
A plastic paddle of obscure call buttons
There is no time within no time

All made better

Heilige Elisabeth von Thuringen
And those who serve with her
Quiet voices beyond the door, beside the bed
Soft footfalls hastening to come to us
With baskets from the Lord’s table

(Cf. The Machine Stops, E.M. Forster)

Gentlemen of a Certain Age
For Tod, Who Waits for a Microchip

Oh, isn’t it awkward being passed along
Up and down confusing, fluorescent-lit corridors
From receptionist to nurse-practitioner
To technician to physician and back again

And given a little card with a clever graphic design
On one side and an appointment with
A different receptionist / nurse-practitioner / technician /
Physician in another time and place

The passings of time and people concluding with
A ruling from a venerable medical sage:
“Your heart is in good condition –
for a man your age.”

Patient Intake: Mis’ries

When I was a young LVN I didn’t understand
Mis’ries as a complaint or a diagnosis
From Viet-Nam I well knew GSW
Pneumothorax, traumatic amputation

But in the civilian ER I met old people
And when I asked what was wrong they said
Mis’ries, you know; I got me my mis’ries
Doctor Junior, he’ll know what I mean

It isn’t in the texts, but now that I’m old
I know about all about th’ mis’ries myself

(I was the first male LVN I ever knew)

Ball Valve-Packing Gland
Valbula de bola-Tuerca de ajuste
Hecho en China

I don’t know what a Ball Valve-Packing Gland is
My A & P classes didn’t mention it
Something to do with the rotator cuff?
Or is it next to the sella turcica?

A floating bone or a floating bit of plumbing
Because some men were here the other day
To mend a wonky valve with something brass
That glistens richly in the morning sun

Yes, that’s it; it’s plumbing, not my diet
And so I can have chocolate cake today!

Editor’s Note: A & P is shorthand for Anatomy and Physiology Class

Flying to London on Nitrous Oxide
For Dr. Armstrong, Dentist

Doctor A. dropped a black cloth over my eyes
As if I were facing a firing squad in a vinyl chair
An uncomfortable vinyl chair
The firing squad is not in the chair; I am

How silly to think of a firing squad in a vinyl chair I mean how would they all fit, eh

I give the finger to an oxygen thingie
And air is piped into my itchy nose
scratch scratch
“I’m turning the nitrous on now, just let me know…”
What shall I think about during dentistry…?

A holiday in London long ago
I’m walking along crowded Oxford Street
A motor-scooter cop is writing a ticket
For a tiny little car that’s double-parked

Across the street is a used-book shop
I want to browse the old Oxford editions
But first I’ll find breakfast
I’ll find breakfast
I’ll find breakfast
(oh that one’s only a little ouch)
And what a happy breakfast!
In this little café with windows all steamed
And I find a seat among the shoppers and workers and shoppers and workers and the nice English waitress is from Viet-Nam and I was in Viet-Nam and she is still from Viet-Nam I was only in Viet-Nam and she is very English and writes on a pad eggs and sausages and toast and eggs and sausages and toast and after breakfast I’ll walk across Oxford Street for Oxford Books I can see in the dusty window and the nice English waitress takes my order for eggs and sausages and toast and somehow I never get across Oxford Street to browse the Oxford books because “I’m switching you back to Oxford oxygen now and you’re all done just sit there for a few minutes” and she wipes the drool off my chin and the ordinary air hisses through the nasal cannula and I feel a little fuzzy and I’m not in London and there are no eggs and sausages and toast but yes I can stand now and yes just go see Erin at the front for the paperwork and then I’ll ride in the passenger seat to Jack in the Box for some sort of golly-gee-whiz breakfast swaddled in paper and coffee in a paper cup which I will have to chew and swallow on the right because my left is all numb and I’ll dribble on myself and I wish I were in London but I’m not but coffee from Jack in the Box after being NPO after midnight is okay too…

Clinic Waiting Room


Morbidly obese old codger wearing a Confederate-flag face mask
Old codger with a My Pillow moustache
Old codger wearing a camouflage baseball cap
Old codgeress #1
Old codgeress #2


Old codger (me)

I been here since 1020 the longer we wait
the more money they get they’re just in it
for the money what’s your Medicare supplemental?
America ain’t what it used to be
there ain’t no doubt about that I done had
the covid and the shots these people
been in and out and I’m still here
‘THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!’ Yeah he’s kind of
hard of hearing THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!!!!
Yeah okay HOO-RAH! yeah HOO-RAH! you was
a Marine too? 29 Palms it raining there too?
my (something) levels was up my m.o.s.
kept me out of Viet-Nam I was in Parris Island
thank you for your service I blame George Bush
George Soros and these here public schools…

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