Jackson Memorial Hospital’s long-term rehab unit has patients and staff turning to the power of poetry to lift spirits and ease the rehabilitation process.
Through a partnership with O, Miami Poetry Festival, the hospital is helping the poets reach their goal for April, that every single person in Miami-Dade County shall encounter a poem during National Poetry Month.
Instead of pills in a prescription bottle, patients find a roll of paper with a printed poem. The instructions on the bottle’s label, typeset on yellow, baby blue, red and green lines, are familiar pharmaceutical lingo but, in English or Spanish, tweak the language a bit:
For best results read aloud. Read as needed. Warning: For mental consumption only. May cause feelings of joy. Caution: Transfer of this poem for any person other than patient for whom prescribed may result in a positive interaction.
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For O, Miami’s Bedside Meter project, the poets, led by Quinn Smith, have been visiting patients in April at Jackson Memorial who are in long-term rehab. The prescription-bottle delivery to recipients in their rooms is just the beginning.
For the complete Bedside Meter experience, the poets sit with willing patients every Tuesday through April (with some visits planned for May) and ask them about a moment in their lives that they would like to have turned into poetry. The poets then take their words and fashion them into an original poem. The poets do it in the patient’s room and deliver a finished poem faster than Walgreens or CVS can fill your doctor’s prescription.
The patient is given the poem to keep. O, Miami asks the patients if they can publish the poems, using the patient’s name as authors, but the decision is up to the patient.
AnnaLee Konsoer-Rose, a 19-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Smith, a 33-year-old poet, had never met. After a 15-minute chat, the two forged a bond.
The finished poem, After Friday, written in about 12 minutes from a series of words and word bubbles Smith had scrawled on a pad during their conversation, almost made Kelly Konsoer, AnnaLee’s mother, cry.
“And I don’t cry often,” she said after the poem was read aloud by both Smith and her daughter. “It was just very amazing, sincere and kind of completed the circle, you know what I mean?”
The circle began in early 2013.
Konsoer-Rose is an upbeat, bright and focused student-athlete who, by any measure of success, was doing everything right in the fall of her junior year in high school. She excelled in four sports at her school, Forest Hills Eastern — basketball, volleyball, track and lacrosse. She was an A student.
But she started to throw up during volleyball season in 2013. The mysterious sickness got worse as basketball season began. She had tingling in her legs and abdominal pain. She had lost 30 pounds. In the spring of 2013, her parents took her to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. She was tested for the flu. Negative.
Next, the family traveled to Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan Health System. Physicians were flummoxed. Eating disorder, they wondered? In this case, absolutely not.
One of her lacrosse teammate’s parents had a doctor who suggested an MRI on her back and found the culprit: an arachnoid cyst that was symptomatic and growing up her spine, pushing on her internal organs, which caused the unexplained illness.
“I had arachnoid cysts. I guess everyone has them and they lay dormant in the spine. Mine, I think, were activated by the sports,” Konsoer-Rose said from Jackson, noting the irony of being physically active and yet betrayed by her own body.
On Memorial Day 2014, Konsoer-Rose and her mother found themselves at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and that June she had her first surgery to remove the cyst. But that fall, a little over a week into her senior year, she noticed a weakness in her right foot. Days later, she couldn’t walk. Fluid had collected in her spine from where the cyst was removed. Surgeons at Cleveland drained the fluid in her second back surgery. After months of rehab, and learning how to stand and walk again, Konsoer-Rose was back on the basketball court.
When symptoms returned in the summer of 2015, Konsoer-Rose learned her spine had tethered — spinal fluids had stuck to her spine, limiting her movements. A national search to find a specialist led her to Miami and neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.
She had her fourth and fifth surgeries with Green at Jackson — one to correct the tethering, the other, in March, to address a complication, a hematoma throughout her body that led to internal bleeding and pain.
Smith, a Miami attorney with a degree in English, learned all of this in a matter of moments as he sat before the eager patient, prodding her with questions.
“How cute, what a good idea,” Konsoer-Rose said when she learned of O, Miami’s Bedside Meter mission. “Let’s do it!” she urged. Smith began his questions, doodling on his pad as she answered his queries:
“Tell me what your experience is with poetry.
“Why don’t you tell me a little about what kind of surgeries you had on your back?
“Whenever you go home, what are some of the things you will do?”
Konsoer-Rose explained that she had not written a lot of poetry but has kept a journal over the years, especially documenting her surgical journey.
“I always have to journal everything, day by day I can look back and see how I felt one day compared to another day and how to cope with different issues,” she said.
Going home to the small Grand Rapids suburb of Ada has her excited, yet she also loves fast-paced Miami. “I always picture myself being in a city. I haven’t seen the beach,” she said, looking out of her room’s window, “but knowing it’s closer, if I was feeling better, I’d definitely be there.”
A few days later, on Friday, Konsoer-Rose was scheduled for release. She’d be going home, she told Smith, who beamed.
“To be honest, I’m a little scared to go home,” she confided in him. “This is the first time both my legs worked so I have to learn to walk with both of them. But I can picture my house and my family all there and I’m excited to be there with them. I can see myself being greeted by my family members, my close friends, going to see my relatives like my grandma who lives not too far away. I can see myself working to get better, going on walks. I see myself going into college, hopefully into medicine.”
Quinn learned further details. More notes. More word balloons.
“I’ve had bad days but I think the more positive you can be, the more hopeful the outlook,” Konsoer-Rose said as Smith worked on her poem from a seat across her room.
When he finished, he began to read After Friday aloud to her:
Alongside the pebbles
Of Ada’s quiet streets
A long line stretches
Almost unendingly ...
Konsoer-Rose was filled with emotion. The poem, she decided, was just right.
“Oh my gosh! That is wonderful. Oh my gosh! That truly is fantastic,” Konsoer-Rose said. “Thank you so much. You made my day, my week. I feel so gifted that you came.”
For the poets, the satisfaction is in the giving and connecting with another person.
“The idea behind [Bedside Meter] is just give these folks in long-term rehab something special in their time here. There is an opportunity for us as poets to do … something meaningful for folks. It does connect you to the person’s life and is something special I would not otherwise experience,” Smith said.
“The power of poetry is the power to reach the human soul and to heal it, to bring that cathartic cleansing to the soul or to uplift,” added Patrick Cox, 30, another poet and volunteer with O, Miami, who made the rounds of Jackson on that day. “It’s very emotionally gripping.’’
Greg Jackson, CEO of the Jackson Health System Rehabilitation Hospital, said the medical institution adopts many forms of therapy — music, art, visits from therapy dogs — to aid in the rehab process. Poetry is the latest.
“I want to give the staff and patients all the tools necessary to maximize recovery and adapt to different passions and interests. We jumped at the opportunity. I think it’s going to grow the more we do it and we’ll recognize the patients who are ideal for this,” Jackson said.
O, Miami’s visit with Konsoer-Rose assuredly will become a lasting entry into her journal.
“I think it’s a wonderful poem the way it mentioned the quiet streets in Ada and the connection in Miami,” her mother said. “What a wonderful way to leave Miami, meeting a poet and having him write that for her.”
Alongside the pebbles
Of Ada’s quiet streets
A long line stretches
From June’s journals
To shaking feet
First slowly aligning
Through hectic Miami
Close friends and family
Watching as the line connects
Michigan to Cleveland to Miami
Poetry on both ends of journaling