Work & Motion


This piece is a largely unedited email I sent to my folks when I was a third-year medical student.

It was originally published by Stanford's Medworld, which hasn't been updated in more than ten years.

Date: Fri, 6 Oct 1995 19:17:35 -0400 (EDT)

From: Marcus Eubanks <>

To: Mum & Dad <>

Dear Folks-

Day cleared up roughly 10.30 to reveal glorious warmth & gentle damp. Sun streaming from all points and 82 fucking degrees. Saw consults this morning, and whilst chowing down on a cholesterol calamity the fellow breezed by and told me I might as well blow and enjoy the afternoon. Didn't make him say it twice. Vehicle of bliss in this case were sleep filled with strange hypnogogic images and noise from my subconscious. Not unfulfilling, but undeniably bizarre.

Prominent background soundtrack was medical doubletalk. Not surprising in the least.


We have three dead kids on service, as of this afternoon. I don't mean the sickness unto death, I mean warm breathing corpses. Or not breathing, not exactly, but their hearts continue to perfuse their tissues as long as we blow air into their chests with our fancy pumps. Brainstem activity nil. EEG flatline, plain and simple.

I'm trying to figure out how to hold the scenario in my mind, but having only scant success. True introspection would probably reveal that these three shells aren't properly in my mind at all, but rather walled off in some little ghetto out beyond the edge of conscious thought. I'm not sure I really want to go exploring that vast uncharted territory though. Suspect there's some pretty dangerous shit floating around out there, land mines, cortex-bombs and the like. Unwittingly trip the wire on one of those ugly existential claymores and I could end up blowing my frontal lobes clean outta my head.


You wash your hands before and after you touch each kid. I prefer chlorhexidine myself, because it's viciously anti-microbial, and if you use it daily you actually build up bactericidal levels in your skin. It's the beginning of RSV season, and the respiratory syncitial virus which gives you or me a drippy noes can put a two month old in a pine box.

So hands sterilized, I examine these kids. They're cooperative patients, that's for damned sure. Bright lights, pins and needles, nothing fazes 'em in the slightest. Studies in quiet reserve and aplomb.


I'm looking at the back of their eyes with that bright light doctors like to blind you with. Doorways to the soul, natch.

This here is retinal edema. Back of the eye with engorged vessels and diffuse swelling, rendering the whole field opalescent white. This active child suddenly seized and stopped breathing for no reason at all. Act of God, nothing at all anyone could have done to prevent it. Thank you, Lord, for your infinite mercy and glory. Family totally dazed. Suspect they'd like to wall this off from conscious thought as easily as I do, but there's this nagging matter of an empty bed back at home...

That over there is an exquisite example of retinal hemorrhaging. There are little islands of glistening red everywhere. Remember this picture, because it's depressingly common. The literature shows one case where this resulted from aggressive CPR, but only one. The other twenty-nine kajillion resulted from trauma, usually shaking. -You know, you grab the little shit by the shoulders and shake him back and forth vigorously while you scream, "Shut up, damn you; just shut up!"

Astoundingly, it actually works if you do it right; they never make another noise.

This little girl over here was brought to the E/D by mom and dad who tell us she had three days of vomiting and diarrhea. How the puking runs can cause occipital fractures is beyond me, but you know how kids are - them wacky little buggers just run around like mad, bumping into things all the time. Her EEG took two days to flatten out completely, but this morning it's as placid as a supersaturated arctic lake.


Visa will be buying me & Scheid beers tonite. Call the fuckers up won't you, and tell 'em I said thanks? We'll probably whine about the few nurses who are abusive to lowly medical students, and pine over the ones who are cute and sweet. We might make ill-informed jokes while we look longingly at the swells & curves all around us. We may delve yet again into the recurring facetious homoerotic theme of the unlikely combination of me & him and his labrador retriever. We might even make grimly cruel jokes about dead little kids.


We will definitely revel in the fearsome joy of life.