Sunday, November 15, 2009


A dear author friend of mine wrote to me this Sunday evening saying -

I found this link to an
extraordinary speech that Glenn Colquhoun made and I think it deserves distribution far and wide.
I read it aloud to hubby, but got so choked, that it was hard to see through the tears – it’s beautiful.

The Therapeutic Uses of Ache

November 12, 2009 in Scoop Review of Books

Poet and doctor Glenn Colquhoun gave the following extraordinary oration at this year’s meeting of the Royal College of General Practitioners conference in Wellington. Glenn has kindly agreed to let us republish it.

THE Wolffian ducts are embryonic structures in mammals. Under the influence of testosterone they form the internal genitalia of the male: the epididymis, the vas deferens and the seminal vesicles. They also have a role in the generation of the kidney as well as of the Mullerian duct, a precursor of the female reproductive tract. Disturbances of testosterone metabolism give rise to a number of disorders affecting their development including complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, 17B hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency, LH receptor mutations and 5a reductase deficiency.
Most of this I learnt this in medical school. I don’t know why I remember it now. More useful information has long since disappeared but the Wolffian ducts remain a magnificent testimony to the fact that I once knew something, a great pyramid perhaps, hinting at a previous civilization. I regret few people with disorders of their Wolffian ducts have ever been patients of mine. In fact, apart from a few of the old favourites, I don’t often see much of what I learnt about in medical school at all.

The things no one told me about take up too much time: WINZ forms, ACC forms, insurance forms, medical certificates – disorders of paperwork completely ignored by the syllabus. Nevertheless I am beguiled, most of my day I sit and listen to people talk. Of all the conditions I do see that no one ever taught me about, ache is by far and away the most common. Too often in my practice it has forced me to leave the tar-seal of the textbook. At those times I have returned to what I have learnt from life by living it, mainly from making a hash of it. It is the most reliable source of ache I know.

Before I go any further I should try to explain what I mean by ache but that won’t be easy. I can’t quantify it or measure it and most of my life I have called it other things: God, sin, failure, pain, joy, and that-voice-inside-that-won’t-be-quiet. Most commonly it is located in that small groove between my stomach and my chest – retro-sternally I suppose, although it can climb into the back of my eyes and it can equally descend. It does not make me feel happy or sad but is usually a mixture of both, at times a loneliness, at others an exhilaration; sometimes it is a dog barking at the approach of danger. It seems to exist on a ledge, a place I come to at the edge of myself and from which I am capable of connecting to what is beyond me. If I was to have a tow bar this would be a good place to put it.

The more I am aware of it in me the more I see it in others. At first I thought I was projecting my inner life onto them but the longer I work in medicine the more consistently I bump into it. It may be in the specific demand a patient makes but it is usually more subtle than that, submerged, looking at me with crocodile eyes from the swamp of whatever else is going on saying, ‘It’s me. I’m here. I’m hungry.’ Sometimes people point at it and roar saying, ‘Fix that – it must be a disease.’ Usually people are only aware of a vague disturbance instead, dressing it up in a number of other complaints. I’m not even sure it is a disease, more some sort of pregnancy. Nonetheless, it requires a careful midwifery. Having said all of that I suspect the best way for me to explain ache to you is for me to show you what it feels like.
Read the full inspiring piece at Scoop Review of Books.

1 comment:

TK Roxborogh said...

I love this man even as much as I love my husband. He is a gift to our nation! Gift! We are blessed to have him as part of our landscape.

hehe my verification word is undish. Glen is sooo dish!!