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Speed Grieving

By Hilton Koppe

PROMPT — Who am I today?

After Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Samuel Shem I



no way

no fucking way


I’m the doctor not the patient

I do all that burnout prevention shit




I even got a bloody hobby for god’s sake

and here I am being told I’ve got PTSD

haven’t I always taught my students how to stay sane

like at a cardiac arrest take your own pulse first

and always remember the patient is the one with the disease

no this can’t be happening to me


it’s all their fault

my patients they don’t do what I tell them

the receptionists they keep fitting in all those extras

Medicare doesn’t pay me what I’m worth

the hospitals they never communicate with me

they’re all trying to kill me



if I try harder

eat better

exercise more

drink less

work more to reduce my waiting list

work less to have more time off

take a holiday

then will my problems magically disappear

if I’m good can You make this happen


I can’t see the bloody point

I’ve tried everything

nothing works

I still feel like shit

I still dread going to work

I still worry that my patients will die on me

it’s hopeless


my doctor is telling me I need to quit work

my psychologist and my wife are telling me I need to quit

so is my time as doctor up

am I done

have I been cooked

yesterday I was a doctor

what am I today


something’s gotta change

I can’t keep going like this

the neck pain

the rashes

the insomnia

my body’s telling me something

I gotta start listening

maybe I can live without being a doctor

it’s gunna be hard

bloody hard

but surely it’ll be better than the alternative

it will be better

won’t it?


Dr Hilton Koppe is a family doctor from Lennox Head, a small village on the east coast of Australia. He combines his clinical work with an active role in medical education. Since 2003, Hilton has been running reflective writing workshops for doctors and other health professionals with the goal of deepening their compassion, overcoming professional isolation, and reducing risk of burn out. He has adapted his workshops to make them suitable for people living with chronic and serious illness. Hilton’s writing can be found in Snapdragon, Dreamers Creative, Please See Me, Hektoen International, Pulse, The Examined Life, Grieve, The Universal Doctor, and More Voices. His play, Enduring Witness, has been performed in the USA and Australia. A film version of the play is regularly used in medical education to facilitate end of life discussions.


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