A DEMONSTRATION

Letter by this morning’s post to say I may go home for Xmas if I won’t have a demonstration (do they picture bands?)
– Dr Kathleen Lynn

What might drive me, a doctor,
to jump out of reason and into the fire
of rebellion? Haunted by skulls
that boast through the thin skin of children
who ghost the alleyways, dying
young in silent demonstration,

I raise my own demonstration
against my limits as woman and doctor. (Continue reading rest of poem >>>)

Paul Balfe grew up in Dublin. He studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin and is currently a surgeon at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny. Following a residential course a few years ago with Arvon in the UK, he recently completed a collection (as yet unpublished) from which these poems were taken:

Curtains

An only daughter, an only child.
Parents long separated, yet under one roof,
By death re-united, perhaps even re-acquainted.

I helped her go through things
After the funeral.
‘The family house’, she said, not ‘home’
Hinted at the permafrost
That chilled the place for years.

Like a sleuth in search of the final clue,
Lace curtains on the garden shed window.
Neat, clean.
I glimpsed for a moment lives of quiet desperation –
Sanctuary sought in a garden toolshed.

We quietly set to stowing the family silver.

Read more >>>

Then I remember a visiting palliative-care physician’s words about caring for the fragile elderly: “We forget to ask patients what they want from their care. What are their goals?”

From the Washington Post >>>

[From Sunday Independent] THERE was an element of the missionary to Dr Micheal Fanning, who passed away on Christmas Eve at the age of 57 in his home of Dingle, Co Kerry. He volunteered as a doctor to work in the Third World, especially in Africa. He was also a director of the Irish branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Dr Fanning was a practising GP for 30 years in Dingle, where he was held in high regard. He was a driving figure for the past 15 years behind the Feile na Bealtaine in west Kerry.

Dr Fanning also wrote 10 books of verse, in which he expressed his love for poetry and his wide knowledge of Greek and Gaelic mythology. (Indo) >>>

Brendan Kennelly has written about him: “Fanning has a daring, adventurous imagination which can slip from west Kerry to Greece with ease, subtlety and conviction . . . Tralee stands side by side with Troy.”

Another Irish poet Fred Johnston writes about Fanning’s verse: “At a time when the Irish poetry scene comes closer with each public meeting to resemble a minor business corporation, Fanning’s poems go somewhere to restoring a basic vital faith.”

That Fanning drew from many cultures is evident in his most recent book of poetry, Ghost Trawler. But he is at his best when writing about something that might have caught his eye on the coast of his own county.

Cloud

I am a cloud sliding along.

I am free to live

And love and dance

and move with the wind.

I am alive today,

not yesterday,

not tomorrow.

I am alive now,

the suffering is almost over.

******

The sun, the stars, the wind,

the land, the sea,

The men, the women, and the children — I understand all.

Now, I change to rain,

so that all can live

And then I become all.

Had Sergeant Death not beckoned, Micheal would surely have gone on to develop his poetic insight into diverse cultures. This was not to be; but from what he has left we can discern how rich the future might have been had he not passed away.

‘Ghost Trawler’ by Micheal Fanning is published by Somerville Press

Sunday Independent

(From The Irish Times >>>) A HUGE DROP in applications for junior doctor posts in hospitals across the State which fall vacant in January has been blamed on the fact that many young doctors are now emigrating.

The Irish Times has seen internal HSE documents which show that applications for junior doctor posts which need to be filled by the new year have fallen by more than half, when compared to a year ago, at some hospitals. Both large and small hospitals are affected and the recruitment problems may result in “significant gaps in service areas” next year.

(From More Die of Heartbreak:) ….”and a wife, especially a physician’s wife, can make or break a man. I don’t care if you’re a genius diagnostician, if you wife is one of those selfish neurotics that won’t go out to people warmly and entertain, you’ve never have a first-class practice. You’ll end up taking blood pressures for an insurance company or managing coal miners’ prostates. A woman has to be able to bring together the right people and make conversation.”

The full poem is available here >>>>

(This is an extract for reading out in class:)

For love is the highest joy
For which reason the best hospital is a house of joy
even with rooms of pain and loss
exits of misunderstanding
For there is the mortar of faith
For it helps to believe
For Mozart can heal and no one knows where he is buried
For penicillin can heal
and the word
and the knife
For the placebo will work and you will think you know why
For the placebo will have side effects and you will know
you do not know why
For none of these may heal
For joy is nothing if not mysterious
For your patients will test you for spleen
and for the four humors
For they will know the answer
For they have the disease
For disease will peer up over the hedge
of health, with only its eyes showing
For the T waves will be peaked and you will not know why
For there will be computers
For there will be hard data and they will be hard
to understand
For the trivial will trap you and the important escape you
For the Committee will be unable to resolve the question
For there will be the arts
and some will call them
soft data
whereas in fact they are the hard data
by which our lives are lived
For everyone comes to the arts too late
For you can be trained to listen only for the oboe
out of the whole orchestra
For you may need to strain to hear the voice of the patient
in the thin reed of his crying
For you will learn to see most acutely out of
the corner of your eye
to hear best with your inner ear
For there are late signs and early signs
For the patient’s story will come to you
like hunger, like thirst
For you will know the answer
like second nature, like first
For the patient will live
and you will try to understand
For you will be amazed
or the patient will not live
and you will try to understand
For you will be baffled
For you will try to explain both, either, to the family …

For this is the beginning
Therefore, let us rejoice
Gaudeamus igitur.

* Therefore, let us rejoice

John Stone is a cardiologist and poet at Emory University School of Medicine. His work appears in five books of his own; he is also co-editor of On Doctoring: Stories, Poems, Essays, an anthology of literature and medicine that has been given to all American medical students by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation since 1991.