for Dr Peter Rothwell
In obstetrics I learnt that a woman opens swiftly like an elevator door.
The body wriggles free like people leaving an office on a wet afternoon.
In medicine I learnt that the body is the inside of a watch.
We hunch carefully over tables with blunt instruments.
In paediatrics I learnt that the body is a bird.
I leave small pieces of bread in fine trails.
In geriatrics I saw that the neck becomes the shape of an apple core.
In intensive care I discovered that the body is a number. `
The sick sweat like schoolboys studying maths before a test.
In orthopaedics I found that the body can be broken.
Bones make angles under skin as though they were part of a collapsed tent.
In anaesthetics I saw people hang on narrow stalks like ripe apples.
But in the delivery suite I learnt to swear.
About this poem
I wrote the poems in Playing God as a young doctor and so many of my experiences in medicine were experiences I was having for the first time. Human beings stood out differently in each specialty. I felt as though I was bobbing from flowerbed to flowerbed in some huge botanical garden. I was also encountering the body as a character for the first time and learning that each part carried its own personality and possibility of friendship. Often this was distinct from the person it was part of.
This poem is included in the anthology Tools of the Trade: Poems for new doctors (Scottish Poetry Library, 2014). The anthology was edited by Dr Lesley Morrison, GP; Dr John Gillies, GP and Chair, Royal College of GPs in Scotland, Rev Ali Newell, and Lilias Fraser. A copy was given to all graduating doctors in Scotland in 2014. We are very grateful for the individual donations which funded the cost of this anthology, and to the Deans of the Scottish medical schools who made it possible to give the books to their graduating students.