Reflections (and a poem) on the special work of nurses. Happy International Nurses Day!
Poetry and medicine have long been entwined. The experience of serious illness – your own or a loved one’s – is often a sentinel event in life. A point around which we orientate past and future happenings. Serious illness forces us outside of the routine. Serious illness forces reflection – it shoves mortality, morbidity, identity to the front of our minds.
Enter poetry – one of the tools with which humankind has made sense of itself since the beginning. A medium into which we can pour hurt, sorrow, anger, joy, disgust, love. Words not constrained by narrative. An art form taking rhythm from music, words from literature, and painting them into whatever shapes we may need at that moment. As long or as short as you like. As comforting or as shocking as the occasion requires. Softly spoken or made with iron. Pick up and read or slip into your pocket for later.
I am one of many doctors throughout history who has worked this lyrical tool to make sense of the practice of medicine. Poetry allows me to tell stories I do not want forgotten, gives solace to families, creates space for reflection, smooths balm for pain, and pays tribute to living.
The Hippocrates Initiative for Poetry in Medicine began in 2009. On the website, the founders describe it as, “…an interdisciplinary venture that investigates the synergy between medicine, the arts and health.” The founders published a reflective paper in the Lancet. It’s discussion of the history of poetry in medicine is informative and inspiring.
The 2022 poetry competition attracted more than 5000 entries from 22 different countries. I am honoured to be one of the commended poets in the Health Professional category, for my poem Love Alone. To read my thoughts on the poem, and to check out the other poets, click here. All poems will be published in the 2022 Hippocrates Prize Anthology which can be bought from the Hippocrates Press and will be released after the awards ceremony on 30th May, 830pm UK time.
As the world still reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards ceremony will be virtual this year. If you’d like to dial in, entry is free but requires registering at this link.
If you would like to hear me, and others, reading our poems, there will be a virtual poetry reading featuring all the commended poets from the Health Professional category on Thursday 16th June at 6 – 730am Australian time. Click here to register.