Friday, September 16, 2022

An Accident and Two Coincidences: An English poem in heroic couplets about our pediatrician and Roger Federer

In October 2005, I told my friend Andreas about an experience I'd had with our pediatrician. A few weeks later, he told my story to his friend Dani, who was editing a German-language medical magazine and was looking for stories about experiences writers had had. When Dani asked if I could write up my story. I asked if it was okay to write the story in English heroic couplets (rather than in German prose); after checking with the publisher, he said it was fine. And so I wrote my poem "An Accident and Two Coincidences", about our pediatrician and one of his former patients: Roger Federer when he was a child. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 September 2022)


An Accident And Two Coincidences


            Ein Unfall, zwei Zufälle.


I slipped from the ladder of Miles's bunk bed

and landed on my ankle, not my head.

He'd had a nightmare just before midnight,

and I had dozed for minutes at his side

until I'd heard his breathing settle down.

I'd wanted to get up without a sound,

and for a second after hitting the floor,

I thought I'd try out crawling to the door,

but then I knew I couldn't, so I shouted

quite loudly to my wife, although I doubted

Miles would sleep through that. He did sit up

to ask me in a daze, "Daddy, what's up?"

Andrea came to help me to my bed

then went back to check on Miles, who said

nothing more. "He's gone right back to dreamland,"

Andrea said, "snoring to beat the band."

Then she got me aspirin and ice.

And while I lay there, I thought it would be nice

to tell our pediatrician I was the one

who'd fallen from the bunk bed, not my son.

He would appreciate the irony;

Miles had often heard his warning: "I see

so many cases where my patients fell

out of their bunk beds, even though I tell

them to take care!"

                               You don't believe that I

was thinking that while lying there that night?

But surely you'll believe me when I say

I did remember it when the X-ray

showed in the morning that nothing was broken

(torn ligaments).

                            I'd have liked to have spoken

to Dr. Kaufmann sooner, but happily

my son and daughter lived quite healthily

for two months, until Luisa had

to go in for a check-up with her Dad.

And everything was fine, and then we spoke

about some vaccination dates and joked

about the funny things my daughter does.

And since the afternoon was slow, I was

able to tell the story of my slip.

And when it ended, I added one more quip,

a lovely bit of Basel irony:

that very week, that very injury

had struck down Roger Federer—I wondered

as I made the joke if I had blundered,

but Dr. Kaufmann answered with a grin:

"I was Roger Federer's pediatrician

until he was fourteen and moved away

to go to tennis school where he could play

more seriously. He was very shy

when I knew him." I told the doctor I

had been a Roger fan for quite a while.

The Basel boy who'd made it made us smile,

and then we said goodbye. We had to hurry,

Luisa and I, or our friends would worry,

whom we were going to meet beside the Rhine.

But we were hungry, and we just had time

to stop at Starbucks to pick up a snack.

While I was ordering, behind my back

I heard a voice I'd heard somewhere before,

and I thought in half a second (no more):

"Someone's talking English on his cell,

someone that I think I know quite well

but cannot place. Which expat could it be?"

I took my muffins, turned around to see

Roger sitting there, his foot in a cast,

crutches on the floor. He had the glassed-

over eyes of someone on the phone.

Coincidences—I'd have liked to wait

to share this tale with him, but we were late,

and he kept talking, so I left him alone.

            (But maybe he will see these lines sometime

            and enjoy my anecdote in rhyme.)


            — November 2005


Originally published in Primary Care 51-52, 2005

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