‘There is at least a moderate risk that there is in your family
an alteration in a gene that can cause breast and ovarian cancer.’
Okay. I give in. My genes are suspect,
pre-disposed to kamakazi tendencies;
familial links to cancer now detected.
I will agree to surgery, sign away
redundant reproductive parts without
a backward glance; put up no struggle.
But luck can work both ways: my uterus,
though suspect, has been declared ‘mobile’,
thus less invasive methods can be used.
Mercifully I will not be expected to rise,
fresh from the knife, curtsey, apologise
for bothering the good surgeon, as did
one early pre-antisepsis patient, only
to fall dead, biblically, on the third day.
Nor will I have my incisions doused
in best French brandy, though I dare say
a nip or two would take the sting away.
Things have moved on through centuries.
And I’ll be driven there and back, with
cushions for additional comfort. As I ride
I’ll recollect pioneers of gynaecology:
Ephraim McDowell bringing his patient
sixty miles on horseback to his surgery;
the long ride back to unimagined health.
My gratefulness extends to each discovery
that makes such journeys relatively safe.
However, it must be said, God is a man,
otherwise we would have a system that
comes away itself when redundancy
is the only option on the table.
About this poem
To celebrate the Quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, twenty-one Scottish poets were commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library to write poems inspired by the College’s collections and work. Like surgeons they have used ‘the hand that sees’, but in this case the writing hand that acts at the prompting of insight and imagination. The poems and their comments, alongside photographs of items that inspired them, were published in The Hand that Sees: Poems for the quincentenary of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, edited by Stewart Conn, and published by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in association with the Scottish Poetry Library in 2005.