Hippocrates’ Memo

A poetry project launched during Dying Matters Week 2016 that aims to encourage more open dialogue about our universal shared experience of death and dying whilst highlighting the importance of good communication, particularly towards the end of life. Inspired by the epic verse of Homer and named after the ancient oath taken by doctors to first and foremost do no harm, our project has created a collaborative poem written by and for the hospital community that can be contributed to over time.

Coordinated by emergency nurse practitioner and writer Allison Day on behalf of Art for Life the project, which began in 2015, involved a series of guided conversations. These conversations allowed us to gather in thoughts and feelings about what makes life enjoyable from patients and loved ones, as well as clinical & non-clinical staff from around the hospital. These Contributions in Conversation were used to write short poems called cinquains that beautifully capture the little things that often mean so much in people’s lives. The other element of the poem “The Musgrove Refrain” is informed by the shared values that underpin our care at Musgrove, and acts as a promise from doctors and nurses that we will communicate well with our patients, particularly those who are nearing the end of their lives.

As part of Dying Matters Week 2017 we hosted a ‘mass conversation’ event in the concourse area, the heart of our hospital, involving both clinical and non-clinical staff who were invited to take part in a conversation about what makes life enjoyable for them. We asked the participants to write down the one thing that really jumped out for them, with the aim of using these ‘little things’ to write further cinquains. This visually powerful and memorable event was intended to both inspire the courage to talk about death and dying and demonstrate the commitment of staff at Musgrove to improving end of life care for our patients. Running throughout this period was the exhibition How are you Healing.

In July 2018 as part of the NHS70 celebrations Art for Life hosted a storytelling event. Stu Packer, professional actor & storyteller, told the story of ‘Hippocrates and Memo’ and the recently completed red garden, which features one of the cinquains. Art for Life believes that storytelling, with its focus on the person beyond the patient, can make a valuable contribution to the wider communication strategy at Musgrove, and hopes that with further research and collaboration it might be incorporated into the training programme for student nurses and doctors as an ongoing legacy of the project. In the meantime we hope to give the poem a permanent home in the Jubilee corridor.