my own thoughts

When I was four, I was admitted as an emergency patient to hospital. All I remember from the experience was that the ward food trolley ran out of ice cream before it got to me. More importantly I left hospital wanting to be a doctor. Initially I cared for my dolls and teddies, all were hospitalised on my bedroom floor with a variety of ailments requiring the application of red felt tip and Elastoplast. In 1990 I qualified as a doctor. In 2015 I became a patient again. I developed thoracic outlet syndrome in my right arm. My world changed overnight. My life as a busy GP, educator, mum, wife and friend came to a crashing halt and I swapped my prescription pad and doctor’s bag for a bottle of pregabalin and a fistful of hospital appointments. My acute nerve compression progressed into chronic pain and with this the awareness of how little my 25 year medical career had taught me about managing chronic pain.

Like many patients writing poems helped me make sense of my new world and cope with the sudden onset of a life changing illness.

 Falling (out of work) May 2015

Balanced on a
tight rope.
Head high,
Each step defined.

Don’t look down.
A void
infinite darkness,
The unknown.

In the midst of performance
there is no next step.
Struck like Homer’s Hector.
(but this is no story)
Stunned by pain.

As the unknown becomes known
there is no void.
The weft of friendship
the warp of family
catches me in its cloth of care.
A safety net-
unseen from above.

I lie,
watching the tightrope
high above me.

I marvel
at the skill and energy of
those who
walk the wire.

Simile of Pain (June 2015)

Buffeted by waves of pain,
like being trapped in a giant eddy.
Exhausted, no hope of escape.

Pain creeps through my arm,
like a migraine,
distorting my view of the world.

It demands my attention,
like a small child
expecting to be played with.

Pain takes over my life
like an obsession
it is compulsive to talk about it.

How do I feel?

Like death warmed up.

Metaphor (July 2015)

The elephant in the room,
is sitting on my arm.

I wrote the next three poems after several frustrating visits to hospital outpatients where none of the consultants I saw seemed to believe I had a problem because my symptoms did not fit neatly with their list of possible diagnosis.  (August 2015)


I give you my sad smile.
I feel like the walking dead.
I am busy doing nothing.
I look well but am in pain.
This clearly confuses you.
I let out a silent scream.

Surgical Outpatients (1)

I step on your conveyor belt,
in between the electric teasmade
and the cuddly toy.

You look at me – I am discussed.
Round and round I go.
But can you help me?

I feel I am making progress,
next to the set of towels.

Time goes by.
The food processor and cocktail shaker
have all been chosen.

I don’t have one of your conditions,
so you don’t have a treatment.

I sit.

Round and round I go.
I have fallen through your surgical sieve.
In the generation game of life.

Surgical Outpatients (2)

What do you see
when you look at me?
My painted toe nails?
My new yellow dress?
Hair freshly cut
I look a success.

I’m not sad.
I’m not weepy.
I’m mentally alert.
You don’t seem to get it,
that inside I hurt.

I have normal reflexes.
No deformity to see.
I look perfectly healthy.
How can that be?

You look surprised, when
I say I’m in pain
It seems like I’ve come to your clinic in vain.

A vice-like grip is
crushing my arm.
How is this is possible
as I look so calm?

I’ve perfected the art of
If I can fool you,
maybe I can fool me.

The tranquillity of my garden and the ability to slip back into things I loved as a child enabled me to maintain my sense of wellbeing despite the pain and fatigue. (May 2015)

A.A. Milne in My Garden

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair where I sit.
There isn’t any other place quite like it.

I rock gently in my hammock.
Sunlight shines through the cherry tree leaves,
making patterns on my face and arms.

My hand reaches out, touching the
cool of the fossilised wood.
I rock back and forth-
at one with the world- the earth and nature.

A spider dances across the dark slate
then disappears into the bank of ferns.
I am hidden from view.
Hidden or hiding from my real world.

All sorts of funny thoughts run through my head.
It isn’t really anywhere,
it’s somewhere else instead.

The transition from a ‘highly functioning’ adult with many roles to patient was very challenging. (Oct 2015)

Who am I?

I am not ill,
just unable to be me.
A mother who asks for help.
A daughter who needs support.
A wife asleep on the sofa.
A friend always needing to talk.
A doctor who needs care.
A patient.

Anniversary (March 2016)

360 days of pain
Multiple treatments
but no gain.
seems in vain.
I smile
and focus on keeping sane.

Cotton (2 Year Anniversary) (March 2017)







After a time off work with the support of amazing colleagues and the flexibility of my post I returned to work as a GP Training Programme Director. The statement ‘not all disabilities are visible’ helped me struggle back to work looking well but not feeling it. (Sept 2017)

This is something I did not previously understand. (March 2017)

 The line of illness

The line
is invisible
to doctors
who think
they understand
the pain
the fatigue
the loss
of identity
that is illness

The line
is a border.
no visa
no passport
to cross
back to
the other side
that is health.

The pain is ongoing, the care has improved, my wellbeing is good.

These poems have helped me make sense of my new world.

There will be more to come.

page created 5th August 2019