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05 Oct 2022

Irish doctors prescribe poetry to combat difficulty of working during pandemic

Irish doctors prescribe poetry to combat difficulty of working during pandemic

Irish doctors prescribe poetry to combat difficulty of working during pandemic

A group of Irish medics have been prescribing themselves poetry, amid the stresses and strains of working at the front line of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Stephen Hatton first thought about starting a poetry society in the depths of winter 2020, as cases began to soar.

“It was a dark and wet winter,” Dr Hatton, who works at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, said.

“Going to work every day was pretty grey, there was a lot of sickness. This was before the vaccine and it was quite a sad time for the country and the world, but personally for me as well.

“I found great respite and relief in literature and poetry. I found the stuff that I was reading motivated me every day to keep going and keep trying.”

“I thought, maybe that would be of benefit to other people I worked with. And I put the idea together and maybe for about three months there were regular weekly meetings and just myself in attendance,” Dr Hatton joked.

“Eventually, people came out of the woodwork and started joining the society and it became what it is today.”

The group is called the St James’s Hospital Poets and Players Society, the first and only poetry society in any Irish hospital.

As regularly as they can, amid the ever-changing Covid-19 situation, the group of healthcare workers gather together to discuss, read and perform some of their own poetry.

Get-togethers have included visits to the Museum of Literature Ireland and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), as well as what Dr Hatton called a “Poets and Players Society Post-It, Poetry and Pizza Party”.

“We wrote poems on post-its and stuck them around the staff rest area,” he said.

The young doctor, who counts Robert Frost as his favourite poet, said it was only recently that he realised the extent of his passion for rhyme and metre.

“I actually had If by Rudyard Kipling scribbled in the back of my school journal and would read it most days really,” he said.

“But I never recognised that that was an interest in literature or poetry. Funnily enough, even through college, I never really recognised that I would always, always find a new poem every couple of weeks that would mean something to me.

“Only really now since Covid-19 have I realised how much it means to me to feel something that someone else has thought about or written down.”

The group had planned an event showcasing their own work at IMMA, but rising Covid-19 cases and the advent of new restrictions has put paid to the idea for now.

Instead, the focus has turned to putting together a poetry pamphlet to give to patients.

“The themes hopefully being reassurance, calmness, hopefulness – those sorts of like pleasant themes that might bring solace to people who are sick in hospital, particularly around winter,” Dr Hatton added. 

“Hospitals are very difficult places to be in at the best of times, but they can be particularly chaotic in winter.”

Recent months have already proved difficult for patients and medics alike at St James’s Hospital, amid intense pressure on the Irish health system.

“Myself and my close colleagues are exhausted,” Dr Hatton said.

“And there wasn’t anything left in the tank this time last Christmas. And then we endured a terrible lockdown and increasing burden on healthcare through last winter. And now to be returned to those days, it’s kind of like Groundhog Day.

“There’s lots of uncertainty and it’s hard to feel positive when you’re facing such uncertainty.”

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