Many of the poems in the pamphlet Sodium 136 were written in Hull Royal Infirmary where Carole Bromley had pituitary surgery in 2018. I first met Carole on a writing week in 2004. It is a privilege to feature four of the poems. The pamphlet was produced and published by Calder Valley Press in 2019 and a donation from every copy sold will be made to The Pituitary Foundation. Many of the poems had already been published in magazines, and several have been commended or placed in competitions.
The testimonial by the poet Clare Shaw: “If poetry’s work is to speak to the universal through the particular, then Sodium 136 is a triumph. With the profound insight of personal experience, Carole Bromley captures the complex experience of serious illness, affording equal worth to the mundane and terrible with a beautiful and uncompromising directness. This is not just a record of physical suffering – it is a powerful and profoundly intelligent exploration of grief, gratitude, fear, love, and joy. Poetry at its best.”
My Poetry Society bag is on my lap,
Take if you must this little bag of dreams;
the drip hung from a hook. A jolt
as the gurney hits the hoist, that blast of air.
We’ll soon get you warmed up. They ask me
which route I would take. The driver says
he thinks he’ll put the flasher on but not the siren.
After three minutes the siren goes on too.
I can’t be doing with traffic jams!
I watch as we go through every red light.
The ambulance man gives me a sick bowl,
apologises for the bumpiness of the ride,
holds the gurney steady with his foot,
fills in a pink form, gives me a pain killer,
tells me about his earlier calls, the RTA,
the one-year-old he drew a face on a glove for,
says he and his wife wanted kids but it never happened.
When we arrive on the ward I feel lost.
A man walks up and down like a zombie,
his spine and head held up in a cage.
In my bay two women with bandaged scalps
vomit in cardboard bowls. I tell the nurse
I feel like bolting. She says I know it’s not
as nice as York. The ambulance man points
That’s why I could never be a patient.
How do you sleep with one pillow?
The registrar reminds me of the dangers,
scaring me all over again.
Blindness, stroke, death is the gist.
He’s not anxious to proceed
on his own decision-making;
he needs to patient to do the hard part.
With the consultant it’s different.
He’s so young his baby’s only two weeks old
and so handsome he cuts a dash on the ward round.
He weighs up the pros and cons when the posse
of students have moved on with their clip boards,
their crack-of-dawn observation of the sick.
I’m not good at decisions at the best of times
and this is not the best of times
so I say What would you advise me
if I was your wife? He says
You could lose your sight. I’d go ahead.
I say Give me the pen.
In here everyone talks to the dead.
Some speak aloud, Barry calls to his son;
Enid, who, after having her hip done
broke the other one getting out of bed,
talks to her late husband, telling him
This is the worst pain and I’m not joking
and I, inside my head, talk to my mum
which is ironic as we barely spoke.
I’m sorry I didn’t buy you the dressed
crab that awful lunchtime. You guessed,
as I did not, that it would be your last,
afterwards you’d eat little and then less
then not even sips out of a beaker,
just me wielding the sponge on a stick.
A new form of torture
to raise my sodium level
which is dangerously low.
They measure out five glasses
of water into my jug
to last me till midnight,
write 1 litre fluid restriction
on the board over my bed
so the tea trolley passes me by,
the milk-shake woman doesn’t come,
the pourer of custard shakes her head.
Slowly the level creeps up.
After five days I’m fantasising
about gulping cartons of juice.
I have a tug of war with a nurse,
will not let go of the jug
which she wants to remove,
tell her if I wanted to cheat
I could put my head under the tap
and drink. I win, the jug stays.
The tea lady leaves me half a cup
and whispers I won’t tell them, love.
I do not touch it. 117, 118,
123, 124 and then, overnight,
SODIUM 136. I weep with joy.
They rub out the notice.
I gulp down glass after ice-cold glass.