Foot image

Today I’ve chosen a rather lovely red chalk drawing of a foot by Leonardo da Vinci that I like because of its simplicity and how disembodied it feels. It’s called ‘Measured Study of a Foot’ which I like as well. I found it on the following website:

The poem continues the ‘Consultations with my mother’ series with a slightly more serious tone than ‘Corpsing’ – which was almost slapstick comic – to explore that difficult line healthcare professionals tread with their family. Doctor v daughter, my medical knowledge (or lack of) and the inability to be objective with those that you love.

This poem also hints at the burden of professional caring roles. The subject of desensitisation to human suffering that can occur in health settings is something we don’t talk about enough. It’s something I try to address in  my medical education role with medical students through embracing the arts and humanities, and having the discussion.

I worry sometimes that my family and loved ones get a particularly raw deal here, especially my mother. Is there a finite amount of care and compassion a human can give? If you give it all to your job, really stay alive to and actively connect with people and listen to and bare witness to their suffering, then almost inevitably this will take its toll in some way – unless you are alive to this possibility, reflect on it, have an outlet for it.

This is certainly one of the many reasons I write…

IV – Numb


My feet keep going numb

(Mum is up to visit)

Uh huh

They’re going numb right now

(We’re walking up the incline from Priors Haven to Front Street)

Would you like to stop?

 No. I’m just letting you know

Are you sure?

Yes. I might start walking funny though.


Or fall over

(I stop)

OK. We should stop

No. I’m fine. This is what I was talking about

(She’s been talking about nothing else since she arrived… the day before…)

Going up hills or on the flat as well?

Both. It just comes and goes.


But I can play tennis…

Well when’s your appointment?

Oh in a month or two. Ages.

It’s not really Mum. What did your GP say?

Nothing. Just that they’d refer me.

Well shall we keep going, or do you want to go home?

No, I’m fine.

(we carry on)

It’s just annoying Eleanor. Why is it happening?

I don’t know Mum. I’m not an expert on numb feet.

You must have some idea…

Perhaps. But I’m your daughter not your doctor

Yes. But what could it be?

(I sigh)

Lots of things. Back related, trapped or damaged nerves. Something or nothing.

It’s not nothing.

I didn’t mean… Shall we change the subject?

Well you wouldn’t like having numb feet

No. No I wouldn’t

Well then

(we continue and find a seat at the Fish Shack on King Edward’s Bay)

It’s gone now, the numbness. They’re fine again

Well that’s a relief

There’s no need to be like that

Like what?

You’re so unsympathetic

What do you want me to say?

Well you could be nicer

I am being nice!

(we finish our coffees and head up and around to Longsands)

They’re going numb again…

Mum, really. The running commentary

I’m just letting you know


You’re horrible

I’m not. We can stop. I can get the car

I don’t want to stop

Fine, fine

(we walk… slowly, in silence)

Are you like this to your patients?

No, I’m lovely. 


I use up all my niceness and compassion on them

I don’t believe you

(I raise my empty hands towards her)

I’ve got none left!


Copyright Eliot North 2016







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