Why a doctor writes poetry

Aug 5, 2019Articles, Poetry5 comments

So I’m a 50 something wife, mum, and physician currently in general practice. I write because writing to me feels like living. I write when things are hard because strong emotions almost write themselves. I also write about the happy and astounding or inexplicable things that happen, otherwise I may forget. Some folks paint or sing, and I do those things too, but reading & writing come most naturally.

Medical practice nearly killed off these skills, because I mostly abbreviated and wrote in note form, not looking for beauty, rather, just a rapidly produced essential record. Amazingly, I’ve found that poetry and medical notes have brevity in common.

General (Family) practice, is about the art of healing but also of knowing humanity at its rawest; and most honest. I’ve also written recently for an anthology about the experiences around death–a collaboration between medics and the humanities in the Northern universities aimed at conversing about death and helping people with loss. Just sitting, listening to poets reading and performing brought a kind of responsive form of writing; creative juices seemed to flow in the sessions and gave us great pleasure.

I’m an extroverted writer who wants to share not just journal. Being part of a community that shares creativity is a part of flourishing. It’s what I believe I’m (we are) designed for and its taken many years on the planet before I’ve gotten it, but that is a story for another day…

 

Angels and Geriatrics

Look, look, over there

Angels!’

Night nurse Stockton switches on her pen torch

Had she heard a voice?

Stunned, she stops, frozen in her tracks

In the brilliant light of her recently acquired battery-powered pen torch was

The normally silent Norma

Non-verbal Norma 

Whose label was ‘aphasic’

‘Angels!’ She repeats

Voice as clear as crystal

Enunciating the two syllables

In a beautifully lilting northern accent

‘Lovely angel.’

The voice says again

Dispelling any doubt in Stockton’s mind 

That she’s hearing things

For it’s clearly audible 

The light emerging from sisters office

Throws Sister Stockton’s long shadow over Ward G1

The pen-torch lights up Norma

Shines into Norma’s wide eyes 

And reflects red pupils, like a cat’s

This could not be 

It was an impossibility

but night nurse Stockton finally overcomes the shock  

She places one foot in front of the other

In the direction of Norma’s pointing finger

It’s directing her to Miss Chalmer’s bed

She knees beside the bed

‘Miss Chalmers,’ she whispers, but Miss Chalmer’s doesn’t move

Occasionally loud, jovial Miss Chalmers doesn’t budge

Full of life Miss Chalmers

The youngest of the elderlies

Doesn’t stir

So she shakes her by the shoulders 

and shouts a little louder

‘Miss Chalmers!’

She’s not worried about raising the deaf

She shines the pen torch into open eyes

with fixed dilated pupils

There’s not a flicker of recognition

She could still make out the laughter lines

The faint smile on the lips

She notes all of this

While taking a radial pulse- absent

She feels for a carotid pulse- also absent

Bending closer still, she listens for breath sounds

The stillness is piercing

There is no soft snoring

Not a thing indicating life 

For Miss Chalmers is not deaf

Just dead 

© Annie Forester, August 5, 2019

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

5 Comments

  1. jkylegregory

    I love the beautiful example you’ve set. If a general practice physician finds the time for writing good poetry, then perhaps, we all can. Art making, no less than interpreting, shouldn’t be the province of a small group of privileged people. I think we too easily disqualify ourselves as less creative and unqualified than others, and never get started. I’m glad you did, and keep going.

  2. Dan

    Hard to write this with tears in my eyes. Thanks for sharing this gentle and intense scene so poetically rendered

  3. Andrea

    WOW. Annie, that was powerful, keep writing and sharing it with us. I relate to how life gets so immediate that we don´t tend to beauty, we forget to breathe and wonder why we feel asphyxiated. Like Night Nurse Stockton, we stick to our tasks and miss the amazing that is all around us.

  4. Rinus

    I love your line on the happy and astounding and inexplicable things in life that happen. Things that only can be expressed through story. Which you so richly give expression to in the story of the death of Miss Chalmers!

  5. Nat

    Such a powerful piece.
    My challenge is to find the beauty in writing, even brief medical notes. Thanks

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