Fear is one of the central concerns of MacCaig’s poem. From the opening stanzas, it is obvious the speaker fears his inability to control his emotions. He knows the patient he visits is in a poor condition but also recognises how powerful and unpredictable emotions can be.
The speaker's is not unwilling to feel upset but anxious that he will be able to cope with the feelings. This is a natural human reaction and one which most readers will recognise.
Another prominent theme is death. More specifically, MacCaig’s poem explores the inevitability of death as the speaker is forced to confront his own mortality as well as that of his friend.
The speaker visits someone who seems particularly ill and, as a consequence, death dominates their thoughts. Even when walking along a corridor or arriving at the patient’s bedside, the speaker cannot avoid interpreting images in a negative way.
This shows us that part of the human condition is recognising the transitory nature of our existence. Though MacCaig’s poem is a painful reminder of the fragility of life, it should also encourage a greater appreciation of life itself.