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The Art of Palliative Medicine - 2017 Semester 1

The reason for my choice of media was because I felt that poetry could best capture the poignancy and depth to which topics of death and dying may be understood by both patients and their carers. Poetry allows a metaphysical exploration of existential ideas that may not be understood as profoundly as an academic essay.

Poetry also forces the audience to reflect on the meaning portrayed in the poem and therefore better engage with their own ideas about death and dying, something which I myself required to do in order to relay ideas in the form of poetry. Other than these objective reasons, I also considered poetry for the fact that it fitted with my patient's poetic lifestyle and her approach to her own illness and dying. The mere fact that her disease, was something that the scientific community lacked knowledge about meant that she had to resort to a more ethereal understanding of the disease and her death and this was best captured in the inherently nuanced medium of poetry. I also chose poetry for personal reasons as I felt that it allowed me to more deeply and thoroughly explore these challenging concepts of death, which are traditionally referred and thought of indirectly, through a more euphemistic and metaphorical medium. In these situations of imminent and unpreventable death, the role of the doctor may not be discrete as it otherwise is, and the subtle nature of the poetic medium reflects this.

The Rest Home

PDF version of "The Rest Home"

It's alright
Here at the rest home

I have my favourites
Who know this creature
That lurks inside
And rears its ugly head
Once in a while

But it's alright
Here at the rest home

Then there's the bad ones
Whom I can't turn to
When this old creature's
Feeling trapped

We cant all
Be heroes

There's people
Here at the rest home
Who've left children and grandchildren and parents
To be here
And let me see
One more day

There's people here
Who've lost their marbles; crunching glass
Between munted thumbs
Till the blood runs thick
Like the jelly at lunch

Creating time out of the slice between the hands
The world rotating through these doors
Beckoning and staggering
Each face a roughened stone
That I set my heart against

It's hard
Listen to me
It's hard

They have balloons in the dining hall
To make up for the marbles
It's like the air's been sucked out
And replaced with something foul

Knowing the scythe
Will sever my soul
I'm not ready
My mother lived to ninety-two

The doctor waved a DNR
For me to sign
He said, "who wants to live here any longer than they need to?"

On my first day
Here at the rest home

Around the World

PDF version of "Around the World"

Catapulted across azure waters, the homeland beckons
Take me back to the motherland; fresh green opportunity
Home reincarnated, with those cobbled streets, walked before,
When bricks and mortar meant something.
The Tower of London, Clink Street jail and a memory of
The past that abuts my presence; rolling fields of history and
Quaint cottages of yearning.

The world is my oyster and I found the pearl in myself
My backpack juts into the wind that carries me
As safe and secure as nothing
Or everything.
Europe is my utopia.
The streets cobbled, the towers old, the people friendly,
The world beautiful, the past serene.
Cathedrals, monuments, statues and bridges
Set against the light, burning bright as ever,
From that bygone era of war soured upon ancestral minds

The New World clamours for attention, free speech raises its voice
A cacophony above the exiled past of imperialism, beckons me.
I feel alive; I feel free; the trees sway gracefully in an eternal wind
And the mountain air is crisp and alert
Beyond bustling cities, bursting with energy, brazen in kind;
I felt that one day; the past was me and I was everything I touched.

With my back to the West, I head towards the rising sun and
the sky cradles my heart, drenched in golden light.
I come to you, my world, with eyes as wide as the horizon and a backpack
Full of hopes and dreams; I've still got it here, in case I get the chance.
I marvelled at a Buddhist temple, the monks seem content enough,
To sit in a jungle forest and be the universe.
The world never ceases to turn about the still point
And round and round I went.

But I still come back to it.
I never let living get in the way of living
I was never a housewife, but I cared and lost.
My heart still yearns to be free
My eyes well at the world I will leave

This world within me
A sheltered past.

Lest we forget

PDF version of "Lest we forget"

I walked into a war zone, a white coat ablaze in the sultry air;
Peace eludes me, the sides are mortal enemies, who love each other,
To death.
The putrid casualties, litter the field, moaning, dismembered, oozing;
And I love them all.
There was a time when you didn't hear
The universal battle cry, set in motion by angry Gods, clamouring for attention.
The taste of pungent vengeance embitters
Even the most noble of soldiers

Lend me your hand, O fallen one,
I'll understand you, if that's what you need
Pray you don't take another life and leave what's been given.
Bury your head in the soil, taste the rich Earth I've walked on before.
You take my hand as if it were your own
Look past me and see the heavy sky from whence you fell.
No one deserves this more
Than you.

Cry on me if you must, let the tears purify your soul
I'm no stranger
To wet eyes.
And maybe I'll shed a tear too, and the Earth will be greener for it;
I will be the tears, when you run out, our water returned to broken soil
Let there be no distance between mortal embrace, my hand touches
The universe, through you, I find myself.

And when your sunken eyes plead with me
I will be, listening to the whispers, as if I am not there
But really here, with you and by you, on this war-torn battlefield.
And if the truth, breaks down my walls, I will turn and face thy enemy;
Join hands with you, be helpless with you, lament with you.
Unarmed, naked, stoic.

This white coat cannot surrender an army, so fight if you will
I supply the soldiers with munitions, toxic smoke in a barren landscape
When you see them rising over the hill, shoot towards the Crucifix, that lies above.
I know this game of war, the winners never win
And the losers never lose, but I'll clutch your shoulder again and stare at the Earth
While your mouth contorts and faces fire with fire
Lest we forget
How to kill death

And when it comes, I'll make you ready;
Shield you from a dancing sun, cavort about the curious gulls,
Lay my heart down next to yours. They'll be waiting for us at home,
To tell of tales abroad, how the Earth trembled at our mere longing.
And when the sun sets, and the frost snaps at your toes,
The yawning sky
Will draw you back
Amongst the stars

You are not this body

PDF version of "You are not this body"

You are not this body,
Riddled with ants, that traipse insidiously
Towards the seat of consciousness

You are not this body
In which you are trapped, forever set
Against a cruel dictator, who takes your control

You are not this body
A biomedical disease process of ascending paralysis
That the doctors cannot fix

You are not this body,
Who took you to strange lands,
Who held the world in its senses

You are not this body
Written by the past
Carved out of memory

You are not this body
Who cannot bear to look
At itself

You are not this body
Who cannot walk and cannot live
And cannot be at peace

You are not this body
Who craves life
Even when it is dying

You are not this body
That you have borrowed on loan
To be returned to the Earth

You are not this body
And you are everything else.