William Ernest Henley is best remembered for his short poem ‘Invictus’.

Henley was diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was only 12 years-old. Ultimately, he needed a below knee amputation of the left lower limb to treat the disease invading his bones (see Operation). He was on the verge of losing his right leg until he became a patient of the immortal surgeon Joseph Lister. He wrote ‘Invictus’ from his hospital bed in 1875. After 3 years in hospital, although not cured, he went on to lead a productive life as a poet, literary critic and newspaper editor.

Henley’s daughter Margaret was also a sickly child and was only 5 years-old when she died. Yet in her short life she became the inspiration for the character ‘Wendy’ in J. M. Barrie’s classic children’s story ‘Peter Pan’. When Henley died in 1903, aged 53 years, he was buried in the same churchyard as his little daughter.

No matter the nature of your afflictions, Henley’s poem will cover you in a shroud of invincibility and infuse you with an unconquerable spirit…

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henry (1875)

Old letter

Literary Medicine


Chris is an Intensivist and ECMO specialist at the Alfred ICU in Melbourne. He is also a Clinical Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University. He is a co-founder of the Australia and New Zealand Clinician Educator Network (ANZCEN) and is the Lead for the ANZCEN Clinician Educator Incubator programme. He is on the Board of Directors for the Intensive Care Foundation and is a First Part Examiner for the College of Intensive Care Medicine. He is an internationally recognised Clinician Educator with a passion for helping clinicians learn and for improving the clinical performance of individuals and collectives.

After finishing his medical degree at the University of Auckland, he continued post-graduate training in New Zealand as well as Australia’s Northern Territory, Perth and Melbourne. He has completed fellowship training in both intensive care medicine and emergency medicine, as well as post-graduate training in biochemistry, clinical toxicology, clinical epidemiology, and health professional education.

He is actively involved in in using translational simulation to improve patient care and the design of processes and systems at Alfred Health. He coordinates the Alfred ICU’s education and simulation programmes and runs the unit’s education website, INTENSIVE.  He created the ‘Critically Ill Airway’ course and teaches on numerous courses around the world. He is one of the founders of the FOAM movement (Free Open-Access Medical education) and is co-creator of litfl.com, the RAGE podcast, the Resuscitology course, and the SMACC conference.

His one great achievement is being the father of three amazing children.

On Twitter, he is @precordialthump.

| INTENSIVE | RAGE | Resuscitology | SMACC

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