Intensive Care Is For The Birds


Written in 1972, as an intern, after a particularly difficult week in ICU. I was twenty-four years old, sitting in our tiny apartment, unable to speak to my wife.


This ICU was at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne, run by the wonderful Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters instilled a discipline of personal care at all times. The patients always, but always, came first. I never saw examples of paternalism to patients, or bullying of staff, in ICU. The nursing staff were, as always, brilliant, and those nurses in ICU guided the scared intern through every procedure until they were competent.


Bird respirator: A ventilator invented by Forrest Morton Bird in 1955. It was the standard ventilator in our ICU in 1972, and is still in use around the world.

Drolept: Neologism from Droleptan (R). Trade name for droperidol, a neuroleptanalgesic and tranquillising agent. Widely used in ICU in 1972, and still available and used in Australia.

Last Tango: refers to Last Tango in Paris


I.N.T.E.N.S.I.V.E.  C.A.R.E.  I.S.  F.O.R.  T.H.E.  B.I.R.D.S.

…a vertical learning approach…

In case of death switch off the Bird.

Now take the tubes that seem absurd,

The one in neck and two in arms,

Even three in gut. Maybe psalms,

Not pop, from that machine on high

Should play when things get low.

Imagine – what a way to die –

V fib starts with a sigh,

Ends with a Last Tango.


Constant ambient hot and cold,

Absolute efficiency from one mould.

Running caps in pink and green.

Even death just must be clean.


In case of life wean off the Bird.

Sit out of bed! And have you heard?


For all improvers a special prize –

Out with the trachy before their eyes.

Remove the drain and keep him warm,


Then praise his progress in every way.

Heart that dares to fail the norm

Eventually zapped back into form,


Beats on to suffer another day.

In case of madness smash the Bird!

Reason quietly, and without a word

Drolept yourself to another land –

Seems the only way to understand…


I posted a copy of this poem on the noticeboard in ICU at the end of my roster. It was still there three years later. The hospital was rebuilt many years ago and is now across the road. The old building, including the wards and ICU, now hosts the outpatient clinics. And hospital administration.

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