Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fifty years as a guiding star at the Sick Kids

The very first time I went in to the 'Sick Kids', not long before starting my residency in 2012, it was Cathy I met. From the reception desk she orientated me and calmed slightly jittery nerves as I waited for my interview.

In 2015, not only did she reach her 80th birthday, but 50 years in service at the hospital. Starting out on the telephone switchboard, she's been in that little room dealing with enquiries, post, and confused visitors ever since.

Within my first month as a writer in the hospital, National Poetry Day was inviting everyone to celebrate 'stars'. As well as getting patients to write a poem for their personal 'star', I wrote a poem for my own: Cathy. I updated it slightly this year, Cate illustrated it, and I presented a framed copy to her last week. One of the great privileges of being a writer in residence is the opportunity to respond to important people and events such as this. 

Her delight at being celebrated was very evident, as she immediately pointed to Cate's drawing of the woman on the switchboard, and said: 'That was me!' 

And here's the poem:


Like our own North Star
you help us find the way,
brightening the day
of every visitor
with smiles and wise advice
from your fixed point
at Reception.

In your early days at work,
they sent you down a teapot in a dumb-waiter,
and a bucket of coal arrived
to feed the Reception hearth.
Switchboard girls twinkled in your orbit.                                     
The car park outside your window
once bloomed as a rose garden;
and you teased the children of doctors,
now doctors themselves.       

After fifty years
you know each stone of the hospital,
caring for its memories
as jewels in a starry casket.
And you watch over us as this big red ship
prepares to set sail
across the seas of South Edinburgh
for Little France.

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