I am a great fan of the poet Hugo Williams.

Now aged 70, Williams developed kidney problems three years ago and is currently on haemodialysis.

In a recent interview (http://www.camdennewjournal.com/feature-andrew-johnson-speaks-award-winning-poet-hugo-williams), the poet describes how he felt when he first heard the diagnosis:

‘ “There are all kinds of reactions you go through. One is a slight sense of shame, another is depression and a shrink­ing of the world. People who have been through it before say you just have to get a grip really.

“It’s interesting why one feels shame,” he adds. “I suppose it’s because one is no longer quite the physical speci­men one was before. And also feeling ashamed at being so self-obsessed and self-pitying.” ‘

I have mentioned Susan Sontag in the context of illness here previously, and specifically how she believed that we all go through life belonging to one of two camps, either the kingdom of the ill or the kingdom of the well. Although the kingdoms are very distinct, one can find oneself suddenly in the ‘opposite camp’ following a diagnosis of serious illness. A fine line in fact divides both worlds, yet those who find themselves in the land of the ill very quickly feel alienated and isolated from those who are well.

Williams alludes to this experience:

“Sick people tend not to be with well people very much because they remind them about being ill too much. Whereas if you’re with sick people you can say, well, I’m not as sick as him.”

Poetry has to a large extent ‘rescued’ Williams, ‘because to write means going to a mental state where he is neither ill nor well.’

‘ “Poetry is like that – a place where there is no illness or wellness.” ‘

Currently, Williams has dialysis three times a week and is on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. The ‘average’ wait is three years. In the meantime, he shares his experience through his poetry:

Excerpts from ‘From the Dialysis Ward’  (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n02/hugo-williams/from-the-dialysis-ward)

 ‘A Game of Dialysis

The home team appears
in a blue strip, while the visitors
keep on their street clothes.
We find our positions
from the file with our name on it
placed beside our bed.
Now all we can do is wait
for the opposition to make a move.
We don’t like our chances….’

‘The Art of Needling

You find out early on
that some of the nurses
are better than others
at the art of needling.
You have to ascertain

who’s on duty
that knows what they’re doing,
someone familiar
with your fistula arm
and beg him to ‘put you on’….’


The shock of remembering,
having forgotten for a second,
that this isn’t a cure,
but a kind of false health,
like drug addiction.

It performs the trick
of taking off the water
which builds up in your system,
bloating your body,
raising your blood pressure.

It sieves you clean of muck
for a day or two,
by means of a transparent tube
full of pinkish sand
hanging next to your machine.

Your kidneys like the idea
of not having to work any more
and gradually shut down,
leaving you dependent.
Then you stop peeing.

Dialysis is bad for you.
You feel sick
most of the time, until the end.
The shock of remembering,
having forgotten for a second.’