Abby Caplin, MD, MA1, 2, 3

Accompanying artwork: Jim Roldan

Perm J 2020;24:10.048 [Full Citation]
E-pub: 03/18/2020

This is a story and illustration from the upcoming book 100 Little Stories of Big Moments published by The Permanente Press.

Most of the stories and poems were written by clinicians in 15 minutes in writing workshops about meaningful moments in their work and life of practicing medicine. Professional artists were asked to create a visual representation of the story.

Dad ponders family photos
if he ever knew those people
they look so familiar …
a catch in his breath
as he knows he is missing

His blue-veined hands
with inflamed knuckles
submit to new love Mildred,
respond to orders
as she recounts

childhood memories
clear as yesterday
through her lungs,
trachea, larynx,
throat and lips
over and over
and over,
and again.

“Take some tea,” she insists,
over and over
and over
and again
though my cup sits full.
“No, thank you,” I say.
“No, thank you,” I persist,
until her anger surges
and she spews,
“Get out!”

Together they cling—
a tottering raft in roiling waters
Dad’s eyes scanning the horizon
anticipating trouble

but his concerns drown
in her persistent screams
to ignore my circling

Papers accumulate
junk mail and bills
magazines and wills
treasured mounds of pulp
like garrisoned cargo,

they navigate the world
with a rusty compass—stuck
the pointer heading out to sea
and over and over
and over the

leaning on each other
entwined love
brittle bodies
where together they once
had a full brain
they have less now,

yet she carries enough
defiance for them both
enough to last a lifetime
it is running
over and over and
over and out.

1 copy

How to Cite this Article

Caplin A. Lifeboat. Perm J 2020;24:10.048. DOI:

Author Affiliation

1 Private practice, Mind-Body Medicine and Counseling, San Francisco, CA
2 Poetry Web site:
3 Mind-Body Web site:

Corresponding Author

Abby Caplin, MD, MA

Artist Information

Jim Roldan is a visual artist, illustrator, and educator in East Hampstead, NH

The poem “Lifeboat” was originally published in leaflet 2010;2(2). Available from:


Click here to join the eTOC list or text ETOC to 22828. You will receive an email notice with the Table of Contents of The Permanente Journal.


2 million page views of TPJ articles in PubMed from a broad international readership.


Indexed in MEDLINE, PubMed Central, EMBASE, EBSCO Academic Search Complete, and CrossRef.




ISSN 1552-5775 Copyright © 2021

All Rights Reserved