top of page

Poetry and Medicine VII: Sarah Broom


Hospital Property


Because I am alone in this cold room,

because the Siemens Somatom EmotionDuo

CT scanner is about to talk to me again

and tell me, of all things, to breathe normally,

because I cannot hear right now the wind

in the pines just behind the beach, the way

it runs at night so high above your head,

because my gown says HOSPITAL PROPERTY

all over, and because someone said

BUT WE CAN GIVE YOU TIME

and someone else said WELL, YOU SEE,

IT’S NOT MY KIND OF CANCER,

and because just one fist, held close enough,

was enough to block out the light

from the giant white window where the traffic

kept travelling over and over the bridge,

and because they stuck my heart

to its lining and my lung to its lining

to stop up the gaps, and because right now

I cannot hear the wind as it probes

the gaps in the roof, rattles the corrugated

iron, and because I am about to move again,

to look at the red light circling, to be told

again to take a deep breath, again

to breathe normally, because of all this

I am not quite the same as I used to be.


No, but wait. Watch what happens now.


Sarah Broom, from Tigers at Awhitu, Auckland University Press.


Sarah Broom was emerging as a talented poet and literary academic when she was diagnosed with an incurable cancer during her third pregnancy.


Poetry can be taut and philosophical, it can be beautifully lyrical, it can be witty and amusing even as it addresses issues such as ageing. By contrast, I find this poem, Hospital Property, gut-wrenchingly moving.


The narrator is alone and cold, the huge machine mesmerising as it goes through its programmed routines, dehumanising even as it talks to her, telling her to breathe normally, unaware of the irony when it is her lungs that are invaded with tumour. She longs for the comforting sound of wind in the pines, wind rattling the roof, the freedom of air movement that wind represents.


What does the ability of one fist, held close, to block out the light, mean to the narrator in this poem? A simple observation to pass the time in hospital, or the menacing symbolism of a fist held close to the face, the threat of light being extinguished? When our patients use language like that to describe their symptoms, their fears, it is so easy for us to miss the emotional punch behind the words – to not appreciate the possible meaning of those words to the patient in our quest to extract our own meaning from the ‘history’ we are being told.


Then there are the words that so casually spill from our mouths as doctors, stamped in capital letters into our patients’ minds and memories. BUT WE CAN GIVE YOU TIME. Sentences which may be revisited and reinterpreted and repeated to family, and come to form in their own way part of the sentence that follows the verdict.


Sarah concludes this free-flowing poem with an awareness that she is not quite the same as she used to be, and a curiosity as to what will happen next. Writing a poem enables the writer to step outside the storm of events which have engulfed her, to reflect and find meaning and temporarily occupy an observer’s seat.

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Poetry and Medicine XIX: Guided by my gut

Cycling with friends recently, I suddenly gripped both brake levers, skidded sideways on the dry smooth seal, then released the brakes to abruptly straighten up and regain balance. I remember seeing m

Poetry and Medicine XVIII Dylan Thomas

A young man’s view of death. Dylan Thomas was a Welsh poet, and this is his most famous poem. The poem follows the structure and rhyming pattern of a villanelle. Villanelles have the extra impact that

Poetry and Medicine XVII: Alexander Pope

Advice to those who criticise the work of others. Alexander Pope was 23 years old and suffering from tuberculosis in his spine when he wrote, An Essay on Criticism, in the 18th Century. As the title s

Comments


bottom of page