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Invited Articles

One Day in the Life

Steve Smith


(An Ode to the NHS, after Dylan Thomas)


In the half-lit corporate magnolia of the nurses home,

Queenie sleeps, turning like an eel in her narrow bunk,

dreaming of the leafy green of her Caribbean garden

and the vile green of theatre gowns.

She smiles in her sleep as frangipani fills the steriliser.


Dark in a room off ward fifteen, Dr Houseman Dave

grabs twenty minutes, twitching feet in the cellular blanket,

shaking like a terrier anticipating action far too long.

Beneath his blue-black eyelids, dry eyes search for softness,

longing to bury his so tired, brain-fried, face in her breasts.


At sun rise, the practice manager mutters by his skinny wife,

counting hours and contracts, fights and budgets,

firing random shots at the dawn before he must wake.

And in his comfortable, modernist home on the river,

the Minister sleeps.


At the top of the hill, where the trees meet the cloud-pink,

lock-clink sky, Freddy sneaks back to his mother's house,

reeking of drink from his all night bender. He practices,

silent as a hairbrush ‘Just been out for some milk, Ma’

fumbles a vase to the ground with a crash.   Ma?       Ma?


GP Gilly wakes in her ochre bedroom, drowsy with sunlight,

blowsy with fantasy. Her ears don’t hear the siren,

the swinging of systems into action, while Freddy's Ma

is oblivious, deep in the sleep of a stretcher and oxygen.

She’s listening with her nerve ends to the soothing blur


of the paramedic, who behaves the same to his drunks

and their mothers, to kids and their baby brothers,

hold on there, he croons, be there soon, be there soon.

From the depths of his sleep, a bleep rolls Dr Dave upright,

down the corridor before his brain is in charge of his legs.


And in his home on the river, the Minister wakes.

GP Gilly smiles at her waiting room, rations appointments

without being sour - hernia, headache, I fell over a door.

She’s best friends with cancer, urine infections and coughs,

can multiply tablets in weeks, months and years.


Freddy’s determined to beat it, to give up the booze,

How long had she been laid there, all wet on the floor?

So Freddy and Ma, and Sue from social services

talk about furniture, making the downstairs / upstairs,

what help she will need.


At the top of the hill, where trees meet the sky,

Freddy scents their bathroom like a jasmine garden,

puts a few flowers in a marmalade jar.

From the care of their telling, the slow-show, we’ll help you,

don’t worry, he might become somebody Ma can rely on.


Late in the evening, a tired practice manager

prepares for inspections, for cover, and cleaners,

afraid that the service might fail, as some say they will.

And in his comfortable, modernist home on the river,

the Minister drinks to a trouble free day.



Kathy Gee, 2014

First Published

Copyright © 2014 Big Up The NHS. All rights reserved.