Starting the I.V.

Watts, H. David

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Apr-22-2005


This poem explores the act of inserting an intravenous line (I.V.) into a patient just prior to induction of anesthesia or sedation. The physician-narrator is initially full of bravado, stating "I am good at this" and "I'm the best". The physicality of the act is detailed: the vein "lies stretched and succulent" and the needle "waits / like a mosquito attached / by its sucker." By the end of the second stanza, however, when the I.V. has been successfully inserted, the significance of this seemingly simple medical intervention is stated: "I am suddenly aware / I am connected to his brain."

It is this power, the fear of this power felt by both the doctor and the patient, and, by extension, the fear of anesthesia or sedation, that form the heart of the poem. The narrator states that he cannot let his own fears about anesthesia and "loss of control get in the way." Instead he accepts the power and control that the patient gives him and "bring[s] him down."


Issues of trust, fear, empathy and connection--both physical and non-physical--are contained in this poem. The physician-narrator senses the patient's fear by noting his muscle tension; he slides his fingers over the patient's arm, feeling the vein. This skin-to-skin connection is then altered by the break in the skin; after the I.V. is inserted, the physician is connected to the patient's bloodstream and can easily affect the patient's body by the injection of a drug. By exploring multiple issues that arise from the routine act of starting an I.V., the author underscores how complex and multifaceted is the world of medical intervention.

Primary Source

J. Amer. Med. Assoc., 267(6): 866 (1992)


American Medical Association

Place Published