Patient Watching, Judith Wozniak
Hedgehog Press, 2022 £6.29
The formal sonnet sequence with which this pamphlet begins is about a man for whom being a doctor is not a job, it is a vocation. Here is a medic who shows compassion for his patients whatever their age or ailment. He has time for them and is always vigilant, always looking and listening for clues to the wider situation.
But perhaps even more impressive is the attention he gives the relatives and friends. For example, when visiting the woman with the new baby whose legs stiffen and scissor and whose toes point, he knows
I need to choose the right moment
to warn her he may struggle to walk.
All I can do now is watch and wait.
He is called out one night to a couple, perhaps elderly. At any rate, he knows that ‘all they have is each other’:
Her husband waits at the end of the path,
an old jacket pulled over his pyjamas.
He stands too close, questions spill over,
every detail rehearsed while he waited.
We climb stairs to a solitary light.
I check, talk to her all the while, though
she has already slipped away, I will stay
with them both, in the quiet of the night.
I had to read this a couple of times before I was sure I understood. But yes, this doctor gives the woman’s husband a few more precious minutes of ignorance before being forced to face the dreaded truth. Then, once the news has been broken, the doctor does not leave. Though his job is done, he stays with the dead woman and her grieving husband, like a priest. Like a friend.
These are poems that honour both being patient and being observant. And by ‘observant’ I mean not only paying close attention to details, watching and heeding, but also adhering to the rituals, ceremonies and laws involved in being a doctor.
Like the doctor, these poems have my welfare and best interest at heart. They gently and patiently diagnose that I am not always as observant as I could and should be. And that it is not too late to change.