Poet, artist, writer and broadcaster Rose Flint teaches Creative Writing throughout England and Wales. She is currently based in Bath where she has completed training as an Art Therapist. Her first full collection of poetry is 'Blue Horse of Morning' (Seren Books).
First day sitting in on the surgery; I wondered, if by lunchtime I'd be convinced that that all the symptoms I'd heard about would add up to my own hypochondria. Would I be convinced that I too suffered from Housemaid's Knee? On reflection - not that one, its too unlikely. But Pinched Nerves, well, that's possible.. .a lot of us have Pinched Nerves.
Working as the 'Poet for Health' at Dean Lane Family Practice in Bristol, I'm learning a lot about illness and well-being, and about the body and its extraordinary, wonderful complexity in both sickness and in health. I am also learning something about the interconnected path of Body, Mind and Spirit through any illness, whichever area of the Self it manifests in.
There is a very holistic feel to this Doctor's Surgery. Dean Lane is a small crowded urban street in a bustling, shopping/residential area near the centre of Bristol. The Family Practice is housed in a pretty Victorian villa surrounded by trees and flowers. The waiting room opens into a walled garden, where old apple trees give up their fruit to a host of bees and birds sing out warnings as a lazy cat stretches out in the sun. Like any other surgery it's busy all day, with at least three receptionists coping with calls and appointments and several doctors on call.
The waiting room now has poems and information on the Residency displayed all round the walls and I have a Diary on the Reception desk; slowly people are coming to see me for individual appointments. Dr Gillian Rice, (who instigated the Poetry Place) and her colleagues are referring some patients, others are expressing interest after reading about me. I am also working in one of the local hostels for mental health service users. Other groups are planned for later in the residency.
The practice population of 9000 flows through the surgery in a huge tide, and I sometimes feel like a grain of sand in comparison. I won't be able to work with a great many people, a handful only - and already there are those I've met whose stories stay with me, make me wonder how they'll go on: the happily unexpectedly pregnant woman who miscarried, for instance. Miscarriage is so common in the first three months that patients are gently told to 'wait and see'. What happens then to the first flush of joy - or fear? This particular instance perhaps really illustrates the brief to 'explore the language barriers' between health professionals and patients. Sense and pragmatism are necessary, but maybe alongside the advice, a sheaf of poems relevant to this very particular time might help the patient to feel less isolated.
And Doctors only have five minutes a symptom. And the symptom first brought by the patient may not be the real symptom, the one they want help for. A patient may come in with a bad knee but it may be isolation or anxiety or grief that requires mending.
But those poems in the waiting room - and we are expanding to handouts too - make better reading than the May 1997 Cosmopolitan, or Golfing Weekly. At the moment there's Sophie Hannah for instance, with Symptoms which begins: 'Although you have given me a stomach upset,/ weak knees, a lurching heart, a fuzzy brain,/ a high-pitched laugh, a monumental phone bill,/ a feeling of unworthiness, sharp pain -'
She is of course, talking about love, and I've seen this poem raise a smile of recognition in both patients and professionals.
- Rose Flint