Word Medicine

Writing and Healing: exploring the art of healing and the healing of art

Put To the Test March 28, 2011

I was thrilled last week to find that I am a commended poet in the 2011 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.  All poems will be included in an anthology which can be pre-ordered on this site: http://go.warwick.ac.uk/cpt/poetry/symp/The awards for commended poets and other awards are due to be made by the judges Broadcaster Mark Lawson, former Welsh National Poet Gwyneth Lewis, and leading GP Professor Steve Field on the afternoon of the International Symposium on Poetry and Medicine on Saturday, 7th May at the University of Warwick campus.

I wrote “Lumbar Puncture” after a frightening episode with a visual migraine that lasted over six weeks.  When the tests showed a slight shadow on my brain, the doctor wanted to check for MS.  I wanted to express the physical vulnerability of the test and radical spiritual destabilization that I experienced while I waited for the results.  If I lost these functions, who would I be?  Luckily, the test was negative, and I wasn’t put to the test.

Lumbar Puncture


I laugh while they do the puncture,

keeping up a steady stream of one-liners:

“Whiskey is my preferred pain killer” and

“don’t worry, if it hurts, you’ll know–

The whole place will know.”

I’m good at entertaining.


Relax, the doctor says.

Chris, the nurse, has her hands on me.  They are warm.

I think of my dog at the vet’s, her eyes darting, frantic.

I am all animal, knees to chest.

The doctor counts my vertebrae.

I think of spare ribs, I think

of making a joke.


Chris shows me the four vials of spinal fluid.

Clear, like water,

but full of meaning some bio-magician will decipher,

predicting my future:

a gradual loss of muscle control,

wheelchairs, and being fed

like a child, or not—

just some anomaly in the brain,

this shadow, this lesion.


My husband reads an article, “The End of Physics?”

I glance at it, eyes glazing.

The world is full of mysteries

I do not understand.

I understand his passion,

but I don’t care

where the atoms are in the box.

Do you feel the energy?  my PT says, and

I do.  I feel the colors of my chakras;

sunlight makes sense to me,

dogs wrestling in it.


The part of my brain with the shadow on it

houses memory, language, emotions,

each function a Tarot card waiting to be turned.

Will I learn to understand physics without them?


St. Augustine had a dream.  In it a small boy

tried to empty the ocean into his bucket.

The dream, the saint said, was a metaphor

for trying to grasp God with our minds.


The world is full

of mysteries.


The world is full.










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