Publication at The Screech Owl

Delighted to say that a poem has been published over at The Screech Owl. Unfortunately, The Screech Owl website has had to pack it’s bags since, and so I was very lucky to get an acceptance note before that happened. Thanks to the editor. Here is the poem.
Diving, a lungful

of held breath

slowly exhaled.

As the world is

restored aqueous.


A selkie emerges.

Unconfined by

noise, gravity or

theories of beauty.


The ghosts of

ancestral gills

wish to breathe.

Keep me

under their spell.

Air molecules



What is an Operating Department Practitioner?

The questions I get asked most frequently are: “So, is it really like on the tv then?” and “What is an Operating Department Practitioner (ODP)?”

In answer to the first, I can safely say that there are days when it is just like tv.  At 3am, I’ve been pulled out of bed to attend the Resuscitation room for life-threatening emergencies, alongside an anaesthetist.  The cause might be an accident, overdose, heart attack or stroke. It might be a child or a pregnant woman. They all need you to be the best you can.

You’ve generally slept in a set of scrubs, so you pull your shoes on, grab your ID, pen/scissors and arrive almost before you’re awake.  While listening to a team briefing of the patient’s status, you get airway equipment ready and run drips and an arterial line through, as needed.  Then stand by until the patient arrives, and my role is to assist the anaesthetist with securing the airway and whatever else might be needed.


Operating Department Practitioners are allied healthcare professionals who receive training in all areas of Operating Department Practice – Anaesthetics, Scrub and Recovery.  Most courses take three years, and alternate university time with placements in the clinical area in order to put theory into practice as you develop. ODPs work alongside doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants and members of the theatre team, to care for patients safely in all areas of the operating department.

Operating Department Practice has evolved greatly, particularly over the last twenty years.  The original ODPs were the Operating Theatre Technicians.  Generally male, these technicians were the backbone of theatre maintenance, maintaining stock levels and equipment, moving theatre lights, helping position patients on the operating table and changing cylinders.  As the role expanded and the profession moved more towards formalised third level education, instead of in-house training, the Operating Department Assistant evolved.  In the late nineties, this became the Operating Department Practitioner course, which is now degree level.  Registration, with the UK Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), once voluntary, is now statutory.

ODPs, once confined to the operating theatre, now work in a wide variety of areas. In addition to working in and sometimes running operating departments, they can be found in Resuscitation teams, Transplant Retrieval teams, the Intensive Care Unit, in research and in Medical Physics teams.

One of my previous jobs was working exclusively in a Labour Ward operating theatre and the Recovery/High Dependency area.  This was a varied role – sometimes I would scrub to hand instruments to surgeons carrying out a caesarean section, and other times I would be caring for unwell or postoperative women in the Recovery area.  It also involved attending emergencies within Maternity, such as massive bleeding, or pre-eclamptic women who needed to be stabilised before going to theatre to deliver their baby by caesarean section.


Another previous role involved running a stand-alone pair of operating theatres, with anaesthetic rooms and a four bedded Recovery area.

If an emergency happens anywhere in my operating theatres, I will attend immediately, provide whatever assistance is needed and co-ordinate getting extra help or transferring the patient.

The other part of the role can be co-ordinating Main Theatres.  This involves ensuring that all lists are fully staffed, dealing with problems and staff rota queries as they arise, as well as putting staffing in place to cover the following week’s activity.  This can also involve co-ordinating the emergency theatre list, liaising with doctors to decide upon the urgency of booked cases and ensuring that patients get the earliest available slot for their operation.

Anaesthetics is the area in which I presently work.  After picking up the keys, I go to my assigned operating theatre and check anaesthetic machines, drugs and safety equipment, run drips through and prepare anything else that might be needed for that particular operating list.  In Thoracics/ENT you will often need a intubating bronchoscope.  In Orthopaedics, an ultrasound for the anaesthetist to perform localised nerve blocks.

If you are holding the cardiac arrest bleep, you do not know what the next moment might hold, but also might spend the day just checking equipment, cleaning trollies and giving lunch breaks. Or you might find yourself helping to intubate a patient, taking them to the CT scanner, anaesthetised, and preparing them for transfer.

Whittington ED

I have yet to meet a patient who is not nervous in some way or another about their operation.  It doesn’t matter if it’s removing a mole, or a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft. Every patient has their fears, which sometimes manifest in strange ways.  This can range from the “Will I wake up again?” through to “What will it look like after surgery?” to everything you can think of in between.

Every patient I meet, I greet them, introducing myself and try to put them at their ease. Some people handle their nerves better than others, and are able to have a chat and maybe laugh at whatever funny anecdote you try that day.  Others are past that, and the thing to do is make it all as painless as you can and help pop them off to sleep as quickly as possible.

The first job I had was as a healthcare assistant (HCA), learning the most basic operating department tasks.  In addition, I used to function as a porter taking patients to and from theatres.  The ward nurses looked like they had never seen a female porter before.

The first on call has never been forgotten, as it was an absolute baptism of fire.  The emergency list was heaving that night and patient after patient came through the department.

Trials aside, I am lucky enough to be able to say that I love what I do.  The current challenges the NHS is facing have changed the working environment considerably.

The thing that does not change, is that we are there to care for patients safely and compassionately, no matter what our title.


Further information here:

#OperatingDepartmentPractitioners #ODP #OperatingDepartmentPractice #NHS #Identity #NationalOperatingDepartmentPractitionerDay2018 #NationalODPDay2018 #FirstEverNationalODPDay #nhsmillion #saveournhs

Review of Dave Lordan’s “Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains”

“Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains” is Dave Lordan’s third collection of poetry, all of which are published by Salmon Poetry. Dave Lordan is a poet, performer, playwright, editor and creative writing teacher based in Dublin. He works in Irish radio and press, in person and with groups. One of Ireland’s avant garde and foremost young poets, he is an arresting performer of his work and infectiously enthusiastic about fostering young people’s natural writing talent. This third collection offers much to readers old and new alike, and is accessible to those new to Lordan’s work, dealing with topics such as fatherhood and everyday working lives.

Who are the Lost Tribes and why have you never heard of them before? The Lost Tribes are not only the mythic people who once lived in the mountains; they are you and me in the modern world, having lost touch with ourselves, with beauty and truth.

Loss is one of the overarching themes of this carefully crafted collection: the loss of truth, innocence, trust, freedoms, identity, life itself – all the things that make us both free and human. Lordan begins this exploration beautifully in “Fertility Poem”. In coming down from the mountains, Lordan takes us from being unflawed, free beings, through the ways in which we are required to leave ourselves, by modern life’s dilemmas. Thus we lose ourselves and realise that “lies are the womb and the seed of us”. Armed with this truth and knowledge, our flaws exposed, we are once again freed to be ourselves.

This freedom to be ourselves unencumbered is another theme throughout. Each poem leads smoothly into the next, creating a dynamic, cohesive collection. As much an examination of the political as the personal, Lordan weaves the reader in and out of mythic lands, either as an echo of the modern politician’s broken promises, resulting in losses of cultural identity and security, or Ireland’s myths and fairytales that have become lost in the modern world. And so we have lost touch with some of our magic.

Almost as if to reassure the reader that the poet is not lost himself, Lordan returns to one of his old forms – the use of Hiberno-English, in “Hope”. In his work, this continues to be an engaging and potent syntax. This is however, no backward glance. It is a moving forward, retaining one of the things that Lordan does best, while integrating this collection with previous collections, weaving another thread for readers familiar with his work.

Using ethereal imagery, these poems are both savage and tender, kicking the reader in the guts at times; considering difficult truths such as the high rate of suicide amongst young Irish men, in “My Mother Speaks to Me of Suicide”, or where our food comes from and who works to provide it, as in “Discover Ireland”. Nothing is taboo. The unseen and unheard are made tangible.

At times, the view is apocalyptic, such as in “The Return of the Earl” and “I Dream of Crowds”. But it does not follow here that this has to be an end. This diverse collection is uncompromising in uncovering the truth, knowing that this is a requirement of recovery of both self and hope. Ultimately, this collection strikes a fine balance between the loss of hope, without leaving the reader hopeless.

Running in the Family

Running in the Family

Got my own copy today! My Dad’s novel, “The Small Kingdom”, published in print edition.  I remember him writing this and talking about it when I was younger.  A quick glance reveals familiar landscapes, and will be starting the full read shortly. How lovely to physically hold it in my hands.  I do use the Kindle app on my mobile, but there are some things for which print in infinitely better .

Very proud of my Dad, and looking forward to this hugely.

Read ‘Em and Speak

Since summer 2013, the theme showing up in my reading, poetry and fiction, has been one of colloquial and native language, patois/pidgin.

According to Wikipedia, “patois” is “any language that is considered non-standard, though the term is not formally defined in linguistics”.  Despite this lack of formal definition, class distinctions are embedded within the phrase.  It does not cover slang, interestingly enough.  It occurs to me to wonder what patois is considered to be non-standard in relation to.  The answer is probably English English.  No regard then, in this definition, for all the local variants of English spoken which might themselves be called patois.

Benjamin Zephaniah’s poetry has been showing up in small chunks here and there, since Christmas three years ago, when I took his poem “Talking Turkeys!!” to a party to read. I really fell for both the concept of the poem and the language it is written in.

Then, at the Faber and Faber stand at the Poetry Book Fair in London in September, a new book, “To Do Wid Me” showed up; an anthology of previously published poems with a dvd of performances/interviews.  Zephaniah is designed to be heard, almost more than read.  Poetry was always designed to be read aloud, but these days I understand the different appeal of performance poetry more clearly.

This theme of patois carried on with Amitav Ghosh’s “River of Smoke”, the second book in the Ibis Trilogy.  Ghosh is a Bengali author who writes beautifully in English, and is not afraid to use the varying languages of the colourful characters – Arabic, Cantonese, and Hindi, to name a few.  Additionally, Ghosh has published a “chrestomathy” on his website, a sort of very specific glossary of terms used in the book, discussing not only a word’s origin, but its’ usage.

The theme continued more formally; with the gorgeous “Garden of Evening Mists” and “The Gift of Rain” by Tan Twan Eng. He is Malay by birth and writes with Malay, Japanese, South African and Chinese angles to the stories, also using phrases in those languages.

The other shared threads here for me are not only storytelling ability, but a richness of language which I imagine is born out of growing up multi-lingual in their various countries and cultures. It adds depth and authenticity, helping the reader to immerse themselves.  What a good story should do.

In August this year I finally picked up Dave Lordan’s first book of poetry: “The Boy in the Ring”.  I had a small degree of reluctance to read this, though not because I didn’t want to. I read his second collection “Invitation to a Sacrifice” first and found it well written, engaging, as well as lending itself to performance.

Despite different backgrounds, we grew up in the same area of Ireland at the same time, though we never met till recently.  It is a funny business to be confronted on the page with your childhood landscape, from another perspective.

Lordan uses Hiberno-English, and though I was exposed to it most of my early life, I’ve learned that the particular English spoken in Ireland has its’ own formal place in the linguistic scheme of things. In our house, English English was expected and elocution lessons formed part of my education.

It was a delight to read phrases such as “atall” and “thicko”, and adjectives that drop their “g” on the page; well used to illustrate that language I was surrounded with.  Lordan describes (fictionally) some of the kinds of people I served in the family bar so well I was nearly serving them again.  I also had the pleasure of seeing the results of his West Cork Literary Festival workshop for teenagers; through which I relearned the importance of both challenging yourself and having fun with what you write.

In many ways it seems like I have travelled the worlds offered on all these other pages, in search of what I’m after, only to find myself at home again.

For the time being anyway.

Dual II

Afloat in the new sea.
Wake to dreams of
the old country.
This curious mix of
wanting the familiar,
while hating how
it alters the now.
Reality’s tumble dryer.
No better than
yesterday’s messes.
A visitor now
where once
part of the scene.


Seems like forever blue-grey
On the Cork – Heathrow run.
No matter either journey.
Usually a dearth of sun.

Going home half breaks the heart.
Coming back again, the same.
Each route for different reasons.
Yet all a part of the game.

This is the bit they don’t tell you.
When first you board the plane.
You left to limit the heartache.
But it’ll catch you all the same.