When he was very young his slender fingers
and junior ‘bedside manner’ made such an impression,
his mother considered him to be an absolute
natural for the medical profession.
The doctor across the yard was called
when the boy was in great pain.
He was at dinner. It was mere gut ache
not appendicitis. They had to call again.
Peritonitis actually. Bad call.
But the boy survived, and that’s what counts, after all.
Damn patients! Just listen to them. Holy Moses!
You’d think they could conduct a diagnosis!
The good Chekhovian medic, that sane figure,
Had clearly never met the ghost of Dr Bardiger,
Whose communications were brief and almost dumb,
Who never once said more than mmm or hum.
So hum for ‘take a seat’. And mmm for ‘time to speak’
Another hum for the prescription and good bye
With the odd ahem for ‘Come back in a week
Unless in the meantime, mmm, you sadly die.’
The good doctor had had a difficult day.
He wasn’t going to put up with much more.
The time-wasters and sick could go away.
He strode around his office and locked the door.
The day had been difficult and time was short.
But nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to report.
It was the night and Doctor Crabwise rose
to fetch a glass of water and to think.
Who was the figure there with the snub nose,
He asked the mirror over the bathroom sink.
It must be me, he thought, and took a drink.
The system was ruining him. It ran on wheels
beyond him on its own harsh economics.
The surgery was equipped with glossy mags
and a clutch of second-hand kids’ comics.
Outside, the endless sea of the terrified and sickly.
Get done with them, poor sods, and get done quickly.
I think of the surgeon now who knew the heart,
and held in his hands my mother’s wretched body,
of how he spoke to her and exercised his art
with tenderness, and sorted through the bloody
tangle of her valves and was a blessing
long after the nurses had applied the dressing.
Doctor Crabwise and the rest: strange gods of hope
Curators of the body and the edges of the soul.
The medicine man with the stethoscope
That seeks the heart and looks to keep it whole,
We know your rank, as also our low station,
We pray to submit ourselves to your most strict examination.
Meanwhile the world, its voice a little hoarse,
Kept grumbling on, and nature took its course.