This poem is part of the Poems for doctors project. You can find out more about the project here.

This is the last poem of our first season of readings. A second series of doctors and medical students reading Poems for doctors is currently in preparation. Series 2 will be available online later in March.

Season 1 : poem 7

Prof David Crossman, Dean of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, and Chief Scientist for Scotland, reads Second Opinion by Douglas Dunn.

Second Opinion

Douglas Dunn

We went to Leeds for a second opinion.
After her name was called,
I waited among the apparently well
And those with bandaged eyes and dark spectacles.

A heavy mother shuffled with bad feet
And a stick, a pad over one eye,
Leaving her children warned in their seats.
The minutes went by like a winter.

They called me in. What moment worse
Than that young doctor trying to explain?
‘It’s large and growing.’ ‘What is?’ ‘Malignancy.’
‘Why there? She’s an artist!’

He shrugged and said, ‘Nobody knows.’
He warned me it might spread. ‘Spread?’
My body ached to suffer like her twin
And touch the cure with lips and healing sesames.

No image, no straw to support me – nothing
To hear or see. No leaves rustling in sunlight.
Only the mind sliding against events
And the antiseptic whiff of destiny.

Professional anxiety –
His hand on my shoulder
Showing me to the door, a scent of soap,
Medical fingers, and his wedding ring.

Rights: ‘Second Opinion’ from Elegies (Faber & Faber, 1985) by permission of the publisher

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