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On life and death: poetry of the paramedic

As regular readers may remember, Croakey has been running an occasional series, Poems of Public Health.

I happened to mention this at a University of Canberra writing retreat this weekend, and one of the participants – Allison Ballard, a lawyer who previously worked as an intensive care paramedic – produced this poem especially for Croakey readers.

***

Crook and Crooked

An Old and Withered Man, bent at knee and back

He lived alone, and lonely, in his home, his shack

Isolated in the pristine Tassie wilderness

No telephone or internet, ailing with his heart attack

He died alone as he had lived, lying crook and crooked

Unshaven and unseeing on his dirty sheet-less sack.

***

The Old Lady bent over to feed her wee dog

She lost her footing and fell like a log

Hard onto the cold and unforgiving concrete floor.

Door locked. She lay there for days, afraid, chill and still, her mind in a fog

Her hip fractured and torn, she dying slowly of shock

Praying her kind neighbours heard the bark of the dog.

***

Nana lay quietly in her clean, pristine, suburban bed

She woke in terrible pain, ‘oh what to do, what to do?’

Her chest was heavy, it felt like lead

She lay there afraid, popped a pill for her head

Too kind to call Triple Zero and get them all up, her heartbeat slows,

Oh Nana poor thing, she lay there alone until she just ‘woke up dead’.

***

Don’t drive past that house’ he said, dismissively, pointing,

Shaking his head. ‘If they see you they’ll call, that’s always the thing’

The yard: neat empty waste; satellite dish on the roof

Don’t go in there alone, cops’ll come straight when you ring’

I can’t breathe’ Harry rasped, when he answered the ding

Fingers tar-stained, old dark eyes rheumy, pain in his black chest

Another trip to hospital, in need of clean sheets, food, care and a rest.

***

When Her age pension cheque came she’d fast head to the club

Gamble her money at Keno, eat tasteless club grub

A salve for the emptiness her calls of distress

To the local ambos who’d grumble, drive slowly, and snub

Until no longer the old woman crying wolf from the pub

But just an old shell, small, sad, and dead in her hub.

***

Her big bus trip tomorrow, her garden a state

Molly walked to the metal tank, slowly turning the tap

Tank’s old wooden leg snapped, but Moll moved far too late

Felled, hurt and trapped now by the tank water weight

She cried out in pain, unheard, neighbours interstate

I’ll die here’ she thought sadly. ‘No, that won’t be my fate!’

She squirmed and she twisted, wincing in pain.

Finally free, she crawled slow metres inside

Dragging herself bleeding, an inched trail down the hall.

With almighty effort she hauled herself up

Onto a high-stool and phoned Triple Oh.

Help, and please God come soon!’ was her calm command

Molly held out so well till the firm knock on her door

Then collapsed with relief, safely lowered to floor.

***

Ted was quite smart, they said, intellectual, well-read

But so saddened by tragedy to the hills he had fled

Found just in time by his loving grown son

He did not find death but life and tears in its stead

He waited a while to allay all their fears, then he secretly

Slowly, swung high, from old rotting cross-beam down in his shed.

***

Old Dear stood smiling, happy, waving from her driveway

Leaning crooked on her cane that bright warm summer day

Until the big Pajero reversed. And drove her into the ground

The driver ‘did not see her’ standing, calling his way

Black jersey pants, blood-soaked and wet, clung to her

Disguising her pain, hiding her hurt. She ordered

Don’t cut these pants, they’re my Sunday best!

One hundred neat stitches to her leg, but that was okay

She was crook, she was crooked, broken and bent

But beamed at friends during her long hospital stay.

 • Allison Ballard practises in employment, human rights and discrimination law. She has a particular interest in public and administrative law, work health and safety, and workplace abuse, especially from the employee perspective. She worked as an intensive care paramedic in metropolitan and rural Australia for a number of years and retains a strong interest in remote and rural healthcare as well as in cardiovascular health.