I Think I Have Been Told Good News – a hospital poetry diary


After two weeks of bad gut problems, I was taken into hospital. This is my diary.

Way Off A Blackbird (my first day)

I have become a patient with
a wristband with
a barcode.

They won’t lose me now.
I sit by
the Major Incident Cupboard.

It is a slow Monday in A&E.
Everyone calls me darling.
I am guided by temporary paracetamol

Middle aged men sit down gingerly.
A woman in a wheelchair
blonde roots perilously exposed

leans into her partner’s mid-riff
as he texts, gasping ferociously
as if giving birth
or worse


The very observer shakes.
I am an eye on trembling

How can one heart live
with speculation,

wildness of unknowing?

It would seem a pity to die now
of “something nasty”

when I see up close
different coloured poppies

deep azures and marine blues
of my bed’s wraparound curtains


On my first night in
two old men

bellicose with opinions fire off at their wives
and when they are gone

lie back exhausted
as if punctured.

He that has any heart left hears
way off a blackbird


He disassociates from wanting to improve the world
deletes emails calling on him to sign online petitions.

He tries to remove all suggestion of concern
then sniffs and shifts minutely.

He is now a small long eared marsupial
edging around and pissing a little

in each corner of his new cage


“Have your bowels opened?”
A chorus of concern
into the emerging dawn

A small army descend
dutiful reductionists
clothed within their measurements


I am low blood pressure
I am an easing temperature
I am a wrist band
bar-coded and signalled
back to the machine

I read the Poetry of Birds
wear non-slip bright red hospital socks
against what might be happening

but cannot eat
what they dub porridge


The smart casual docs
one still scarred slightly with acne
the other scratching his arm

pursue the grand master
with the curlicue perfectly symmetrical

mastered at many a mirror
soft donning the flesh of a patient’s
limp calloused hand

we are ceremoniously belittled

“discharge time?” he pauses,
the pressure on him now
“all depends on pharmacy”

Turns: “Copy and paste the pathology results
into the care plan”

leads the retreat.
The young docs hastily wheeling away
their portable PC machines.


On a high screen that no-one dares turn off
somebody – is it Martin Lewis? – is going apeshit
about online advertising scams.

Pigeons resort to a corner of the roof.
The clouds maintain
a semblance of weather.

It isn’t Martin Lewis.


Small lies are being told about me
tenderly emails do the rounds
‘investigations’ ‘procedures’
I am between the lines.

Always better to be double-edged
than truth telling

I cannot yet bear sympathy
am not ready to rehearse
how to protect myself
from the fine words of others


I have lived the fluid challenge
IV uplifts
all night interruptions
rustle and curtain flap
beeps from the monitoring machine

small dazzling flashlight
‘Are you up?’ when
of course I would be now.

Small crossings between each change of bag
to pee crystalline waters
pure as Evian.

This morning my hands are puffed up
like those of an inflated boy
but still my blood pressure
lies too low


Now would be 

the time to arrive
car park emptying
the rustling of leaves
rising softly to fill the dome of evening.

The soundtrack of pain
has served this embattled concourse
with demonic duets

between the arcing strings of the sick
and those who can do nothing
but trumpet love.

And now the last bedraggled visitors slip out
no more at ease but
having done what they can do

before listening for trees before
searching for keys.
The tired skies pale.


I Think I Have Been Told Good News

I think that I have been told good news.
That whatever it is hasn’t spread.
Therefore that whatever it is

may not be what it might have been.
Though nothing can be ruled out (still).
I think I am less thrilled than I should be.

The grass bank next to the ambulance bay
is covered with clover, flying ants,
stumbling bees and trembling daisies.

The ambulance crew wait on a long bench.
There may not be such news as certainty.
I get up again and am covered in ants.



The man with the look of a bearded goat
is matter of fact: “Don’t ring after ten o’clock.
They turn off the lights. You can try tomorrow
but I will be walking about a bit
and the phone is almost out of charge. OK
we’ll have to wait and see what the next step is.
Yes, I know. Then let’s take it from there”.

This afternoon, the doctors had proclaimed
from behind the inescapable curtains:
“The biopsy came back but it is not
the sort of news we were hoping for…”
His wife, in mid-crumple, talked of fight
good honest genes and sense of humour.
Not that he looks like a bearded goat.


The Bay

The word itself forms a critical juncture.
So tonight he departs that hospital bay

sails to Kirribilli Wharf
and spends all morning at The Celsius Café

breakfasting on chia, coconut and papaya,
staring out over lime green waters

and the old green Harbour City Ferry
setting out with its one lazed black-backed gull

slip-streaming, echoing its wide taken turns:
North Sydney, Neutral Bay, Kurraba Point.

Then he steps out on the next or one after that,
breeze on his glistening forehead. Nothing in it.

The swans and yachts bobbing on silver trails
then his boat wheeling back to Kirribilli again

for one more cappuccino or maybe lunch
or perhaps one more trip around this bay.


Common Birds

My own form is slowly coming through
like a distant plane, vague and intermittent
within cloud – flesh pink and steel,
the full sound of jets revealed
rolling soft as it breaks out into blues.

But still there is need for readjustment.
Until now, I have been duty-bound to hold
myself in weathered defiance
unable to live with what I sensed
happening or what might. Or was meant

by yesterday, when a pigeon tried to land
on a spiked fence. Now, I hear its cousin
cooing, know that both have come to rest
knowing too that it is time to trust
in common birds finding their ground.


All poems © 2019 David Gilbert

David’s first full length collection ‘The Rare Bird Recovery Protocol’ will be published in 2020 by Cinnamon Press.

You can find other blogs, on healthcare, patient and public engagement, mental health and poetry, at http://www.futurepatientblog.com