We went to Leeds for a second opinion.
After her name was called,
I waited among the apparently well
And those with bandaged eyes and dark spectacles.
A heavy mother shuffled with bad feet
And a stick, a pad over one eye,
Leaving her children warned in their seats.
The minutes went by like a winter.
They called me in. What moment worse
Than that young doctor trying to explain?
‘It’s large and growing.’ ‘What is?’ ‘Malignancy.’
‘Why there? She’s an artist!’
He shrugged and said, ‘Nobody knows.’
He warned me it might spread. ‘Spread?’
My body ached to suffer like her twin
And touch the cure with lips and healing sesames.
No image, no straw to support me – nothing
To hear or see. No leaves rustling in sunlight.
Only the mind sliding against events
And the antiseptic whiff of destiny.
Professional anxiety –
His hand on my shoulder
Showing me to the door, a scent of soap,
Medical fingers, and his wedding ring.
About this poem
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.