Doctor Death and the New Faces
Elizabeth Woodville is my first nursing placement,
a spot where a man might be put and forgotten.
Sister Wesson’s routine with every new student
is to introduce the bed corners and curtains
then leave them to chat with some random person.
And so I’m conversing with one Howard Sargent;
he’s sharing a fag with a fellow patient,
who’s called Doctor Death - we’re already acquainted
as he’s allowed out to the pub of an evening.
Howard Sargent isn’t my real name, Howard hisses.
His real name is Mikhail Mikhailovic,
he confides with a defiant emphasis.
A Russian who managed to enter the US,
with a mission to spy on the enemy
and who’d witnessed the killing of Kennedy.
So, of course, he was given a new face and transported
by spaceship to the Central Hospital, Warwick.
I just kept nodding, occasionally glancing
at Doctor Death, who remained most impassive,
like this was old news with no reason to doubt it.
I meet Sister Wesson back in the office,
and tell her about the face and the spaceship.
She marvels that Howard still harbours these stories.
Check through his case notes, he’s telling porkies,
he’s been hospitalised since the 1940s.
The next day Howard is seen by a medic:
Typical Paranoid Schizophrenic,
suspicious and secretive, sly and dishonest.
He increases the dose of an antipsychotic.
Now when I talk to Howard he’s unresponsive.
In the pub I buy Doctor Death half a Guinness,
he tells me that Howard has taken umbrage,
blaming me that he’s suffering extra dosage,
half asleep, slurred speech, hands can’t stop shaking.
He should know by now not to trust in new faces.