Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stages of Dying

I recently came across the following poem by Dr Tim Metcalf (Poet and Part-Time GP from Australia) and thought I should share it with you guys. It is taken from 'Verbal Medicine: 21 Contemporary Clinician-Poets of Australia and New Zealand'; Ginninderra Press Canberra; Metcalf T (ed.) (2006) which earned him an 'ACT Writing and Publishing Award (Poetry)' in 2007:

STAGES OF DYING (after Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
Tim Metcalf


In anatomy class
we cut textbook lines
into the dull clay of our body.
We shook dismembered hands,
and bragged of cricket with arms and balls
for a joke.
We washed the formalin from our hands
for the next two days.


A pregnant girl collapsed.
The scalpel cut quick and deep.
Her grey belly peeled apart.
The monitors ticked:
a mechanical requiem.
White gloves pulled out the baby
cold and dead like the streets
I wandered half that night.


As an intern
I was anxious, and obedient.
To cure at all costs
was the boss’ creed.
I had no time for the old woman
we made betray her faith.
Soon after the transfusion
she died of cancer.


Some drunken bastard
hit this woman with his car.
Her young breasts quivered
each time we thumped her chest.
Over half an hour
her face, burned alive,
set cold, branding for life
the mind of her child.


Was it happy, his final memory?
This poor bloke, purple-faced
and next in line for death?
I was naive, yesterday,
regarding his broken heart.
Today it wouldn’t go anymore.
Tonight I was drunk.
There were tears, briefly.


I went to see an elder on his beach up north.
He didn’t say much.
There was this sky-blue dreaming;
the ocean its lucent mirror,
flawless like an egg.
I heard he died around sunset.
That night a warm breeze blew
the soothing tune of the sea

Posted with the kind permission of Dr Tim Metcalf. You can read more of Dr Metcalf's work at


Ghost Writer said...

These are really thoughful words. They make me wonder if death should be fought at all costs, if sometimes people should just be allowed to go. The last verse chimes with something more tender, a more gentle death a bubble touching a feather.

nad said...

It is a wonderful play on the Kubler-Ross model of the different Stages of Grief (which all medical students will no doubt be aware of through taking Sociology modules). Very clever and extremely honest - just brilliant really! More info on the Kubler-Ross model here:

Giskin said...

Great poem. Thank you for posting it.

Roshni said...

Poignant and extremely moving;how refreshing to read such an honest reflection of how our patients' deaths affect us -Tim Metcalf's words certainly resonate with some of the experiences I have had during my career.Thanks for posting this