Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Ode to my stethoscope

Hilton Koppe
Lennox Head, Australia


Poet’s note

My Littman stethoscope has accompanied me on my journey in medicine across five decades into premature medical retirement. It was definitely more difficult to lay down my stethoscope than it had been for me to recommend medical retirement to many of my patients. This poem includes a liberal sprinkling of medical terminology which I hope has sufficient musical quality to sustain the poem’s meaning, as well as mirroring the mystery of what a physician hears when they listen to a patient’s heart.

Stethoscope arranged like a heart
Heart sounds (2019) by Hilton Koppe


What if I were to lay you down, my faithful companion? We have journeyed together across five
decades, to medical schools on three continents, clinics in six states. You opened many hearts
to me. Helped me hear what is hidden to most. Subtle murmurs of the heart,
innocent and pathological. Shunts of congenital anomalies. Valves, porcine
and mechanical. Flutterings. Fibrillations. Skipped beats.
The slow rhythmic LUB DUB of the athlete.
LUB shhhh DUB of a hardening valve.
incompetent one.
The gallop of
the failing

What if I were to lay you down, trusted interpreter? What might I hear if my ears were not filled
with ossiculations of malleus, incus and stapes transposing tympanic rumblings from infarcting
hearts? Rubs and rales and rhonchi of breath’s malevolence. Pneumonia’s crepitations.
Vocal fremitus. The turbulence of bruits. Tinkling from an obstructed bowel.
Borborygmi of an overactive one. My skull’s vault reverberates,
echoing with this ceaseless cacophony,
an ensemble of bellowing wind.
Syncopated percussion.
The pizzicato
tugging of

What if I were to take you in hand again, wise counsel? Invite you to help me auscultate my own
heart. Hippocratic secrets loiter within the unchartered caves of my atria and ventricles, darting
between slaps from chordae tendineae and the recoiling of papillary muscles. Spectres haunt
this myocardial cathedral, a choral curtain shrouding its confessional confines. Could you
open my ears to the beauty within those soulful songs? And guide me
to hear them as hymns. Not laments. May I too pray for
absolution? Release from responsibility.
So that I may lay down with
you. And rest.



HILTON KOPPE, MB, BS, MFM, FRACGP, is a general practitioner in Lennox Head, a small village on the east coast of Australia. Hilton combines his clinical work with an active role in medical education. Since 2003, Hilton has been running creative writing workshops for doctors and other health professionals with the goal of deepening their compassion, overcoming professional isolation, and reducing risk of burn out. Hilton’s writing can be found in a diverse range of publications including Grieve, The Examined Life, Pulse, Chrysalis, The Universal Doctor and More Voices. His play, Enduring Witness, has been performed in USA and Australia.


Spring 2020  |  Sections  |  Poetry


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