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Sodium 136, Carole Bromley

Calder Valley Poetry, 2019     £7.00

The patient’s voice

Carole Bromley insists the reader stands beside her. In a voice alive with details enriched by the eye and ear of the poet, she allows us an intense insight into her own experience of illness, hospitalisation, treatment and recovery. As a doctor, I am attuned to the patient’s voice and I found this collection a revelation and a delight. Meticulous and sometimes devastating, honest observations about herself and others are lightened by a wry sense of humour as in ‘Consent Form’:

The registrar reminds me of the dangers,
scaring me all over again.
Blindness, stroke, death is the gist.
He’s not anxious to proceed
on his own decision-making;
he needs the patient to do the hard part.

Encounters are elegantly understated. In ‘Afterwards’ she conveys the weight of a single word from the doctor:

She tells me it’s so she can compare.
Afterwards. I had not thought,
really thought of afterwards

The poet’s incisive voice encompasses staff and patients too — as here, in ‘Reading Henry James in Hospital’:

                            Sister trips
over the zimmer Jean parked by my bed,
tells me not to keep my frame there.
I do not have a frame, I protest.
Jean looks up from her article. Yet.

In ‘Neuro Ward 4 Bed 8’ the poet describes a world shrunken to a window framing a couple of pigeons on an ‘inhospitable’ roof:

How determined they are, my beautiful pigeons.
If only the man in grey would leave them alone.

This narrative sequence records a courageous struggle which is captured in the title poem ‘Sodium 136’. Her fluid intake is severely restricted, leaving her desperately thirsty:

The tea lady leaves me half a cup
and whispers I won’t tell them, love.
I do not touch it. 117, 118,
123, 124 and then, overnight,
SODIUM 136. I weep with joy.

The level of sodium in her blood has returned to normal. This inspired title for the whole pamphlet encapsulates recovery. I went willingly with this patient on her eloquent journey.

Denise Bundred

 

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