The August 2006 issue of the journal Radiology has an article in the editorial section entitled, "Radiology in the Arts: Dannie Abse's X-Ray," by Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD and Matthew Ripplinger, MD. Dr. Gunderman followed me as a faculty member at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
I hadn't encountered Dannie Abse's poetry before. He is a physician who is now retired. He was a chest specialist, and wrote poetry throughout his career. His poem "X-Ray" begins by praising men of science, like Freud and Harvey, who would "open anything." He mentions others like Hodgkin, Parkinson, and Addison, who have diseases named after them--"physicians/who'd arrive/Fast and first on any sour deathbed scene." Abse goes on to talk about how he lacked such curiosity as a child and an adult:
My small hand never teased to pieces
An alarm clock . . .
He goes on to say:
And this larger hand's the same. It
Out from a white sleeve to hold up,
Your X-Ray to the glowing screen,
My eyes look
but don't want to, I still don't want
This poem resonated with me, because, although I took apart my share of alarm clocks as a child, I was the first to see my mother's chest X-ray which showed her lungs full of metastatic disease from what we would later find out was a kidney cancer. She had a cough that wouldn't clear up treated by her family doctor. By the time we got the chest X-ray it was too late, and in point of fact, it was probably too late to do anything when the cough developed.