10. A note of warning to patients when all else fails
Sometimes the needle is too blunt.
The stethoscope is too quiet.
The scalpel will not cut.
The scissors chew like old men’s gums.
Sometimes the book has not been written.
The pill cannot be swallowed.
The crutches are too short.
The x-rays hide like dirty windows.
Sometimes the thermometer will not rise.
The plaster will not stick.
The stitches cannot hold.
The heart conducts a normal ECG.
Then I have to ask you what to do
Which is what you might
have wanted all along.
About this poem
There is a great deal of medicine that doctors possess not because they have been to medical school but because they have lived life. They have been sons and daughters and mothers and fathers and friends and lovers. If they are lucky they will have failed, with care around them to ease the fall. If they are unlucky they will still be waiting to do so. Sometimes it is the medicine these experiences teach us that is the most powerful of all. It can take a long time to see this and sometimes a longer tine to trust it.
This poem is included in the second edition of Tools of the Trade: Poems for new doctors (Scottish Poetry Library, 2016). The anthology was edited by Kate Hendry; Dr Lesley Morrison, GP; Dr John Gillies, GP and Chair, Royal College of GPs in Scotland (2010-2014); Revd Ali Newell, and Lilias Fraser. A copy of the first edition was given to all graduating doctors in Scotland in 2014 and 2015, and with support from RCGPS and the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, to all graduating doctors in 2016, 2017 and 2018. 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.