The art of medicine


Doctors have a long and proud history of involvement in the arts.  There are classic tomes published by doctors – The House of God (Shem), Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle), The Story of San Michele (Munthe), The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov).   The profession has also produced a number of playwrights (Chekov), and poets (Keats).

This exploration of the human condition through artistic expression is perhaps to be expected from a profession that is witness to human suffering, joy and grief on an almost daily basis. Reflective practice is a hotly debated aspect of medical training at the moment, with many trainees railing against the constrained forms of reflection permitted in official log-books and e-portfolios.

Dr Alice Ong of the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire submitted the following post, and joins a long a proud tradition of physicians who have turned to the arts to mark an aspect of their work.


Memories of Arnhem:

Looking after people when they are vulnerable is a great privilege of working in healthcare.  As a geriatrician, I consider holistic care very important, and find the lives of patients as interesting as their medical conditions. Over recent years we have lost those who saw active service during World War One, bringing World War Two veterans sharply into focus.

A recent gentleman was one of a handful who can remember anything about his time during World War Two. He and others of his age represent a different era, a generation of individuals who we will sadly lose as time passes. During a routine ward round, we talked about life. He informed me that he was with the 11th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, and that he parachuted into Arnhem in 1943.

I asked if he had ever written anything about his experiences of this period. He would have liked to, but somehow he did not feel able. I looked into his eyes. I could see he was looking back into his memory box. I could see pain and anguish. A pair of eyes, that seemed to flick back to the past. Clearly he had seen horrendous things at a young age. His eyes came back to the present, and soon we were talking about his sore knee again. I decided to write this poem for him, and for those of his generation, as a final salute to a departing generation. Poetry was something I felt could best capture the reflection I could see in his eyes, whilst they flickered between past and present during our brief conversation. Although the past was behind him as distant echoes, the memories were still vividly in the present.

Arnhem, it was Arnhem.
We got the news, just not
Long before, the drop.
Us the 11 th Battalion.
Our turn, our turn.

Parachutes, many parachutes.
Were we lads, quite ready
To jump, guns poised?
Us the 11th Battalion.
Our turn, our turn.

Friends, many friends.
We lost many, in battle
Around Arnhem, years ago.
Us the 11th Battalion.
Our turn, our turn.

Memories, buried memories.
We were scared, but fought
So bravely, without fear.
Us the 11th Battalion.
Our turn, our turn.

Gunfire, sounds of gunfire.
We can see, the smoke
All around, of grenades.
Us the 11th Battalion.
Our turn, our turn.

Farewell, fondest farewell.
We are old, and lived
A life, friends missed.
Us the 11th Battalion.
Our turn, our turn.

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