Terminal Restlessness

  • Diane PortmanEmail author
Feature: Poetry and Other Creative Works

Artist’s Statement

Warfare terminology which characterizes serious illness as a battle that can be won and encourages “the fight” is frequently used by providers and healthcare marketing campaigns. The implication that if the patient is not prevailing, s/he is losing is concerning, as patients and their families may construe such loss as a personal, as well as medical failure.

In my practice, I often ask the dignity question: “What should I know about you as a person that will help me take the best care of you that I can?” Consistent with the warrior role, patients commonly respond, “You should know that I am a fighter to the end and will beat this thing.” This is also how caregivers regularly describe their loved ones, even in the terminal phase of illness.

Yet, other patients express frustration with their clinicians’ focus on winning the battle and the concentration of care plans and discussion on not giving up: “No one asks me what I want, or what else is important to me.”

The constant attention to the fight and the patient’s assumption of the warrior role inspired me to write this poem.

Terminal Restlessness

The day you were diagnosed,

your soul grew warlike

and from that front

a combatant emerged

to fight the ardent battle

that became a passion

and consumed your days.

You said, “I am a crusader

and will not give up,

because how can the truly

courageous ever surrender?”

But, what else was important

as you fought away from home

Did anyone ask

what mattered outside

the bitter conflict

or if a ceasefire would dishonor?

Looking to the finish,

I wonder if the resistance

made you feel valiant

and why the unwinnable

was the most virtuous struggle

since no matter how you fought

the end would be the same.

Now overcome

in a restless fray

is your flailing

against your enemy

or a white flag waving

toward peace?


Compliance with Ethical Standards


The author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Copyright information

© Academic Psychiatry 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Moffitt Cancer CenterTampaUSA

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