A Short Explanation of Everything

A Short Explanation of Everything
Our patient says she’s burning up, burning up.
We sponge her off. This student is learning how blood boils,
how shaking chills and drenching sweats punctuate fever,
how water moves in and out of cells
along concentration gradients, how nerves talk,
how some circuits turn all the lights on and all the lights off,
how hearts beat one cell at a time while squeezing together
and in sequence, how the life of the mind
is beyond understanding in the same way that a kidney
will never understand the flow of urine,
how sleep is not as simple as it looks.
During general anesthesia the operating room enjoys music.

The surgeon whistles as she sews.
The patient will wonder, Where did that tune come from?
Broadway most likely.
Between all we know and remember and forget and forget we forgot
or sometimes just sleep through; beyond the day-to-day cogitation
that adds or subtracts or instructs or confuses, that powers leaps of faith
and plans escape routes, that registers to vote and then votes:
there’s a fine line, a user interface, a membrane,
and what is a membrane if not for its pores?
With each generation the explanations get thinner and thinner.
Ion channels let the insides know the outsides.
We’re two-thirds water. Take us to the river
and we’ll displace our weight in water,
floating this way or that.
The current explains which direction.

“I retired on June 30, 2018. Since then I’ve un-retired in pieces. Patient care is hard to give up. So is teaching. To get back on the payroll books, I passed a background check and had to show my passport to Human Resources. Fortunately, I am still who I said I was.”

About the Poem

“This poem is fiction, except for the feeling.”

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email


1 thought on “A Short Explanation of Everything”

  1. Pris Campbell

    Great poem! I especially liked how the pace sped up as it reached the end…like stream of consciousness. And in the water, to boot.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Poems

Popular Tags
addiction alcohol addiction allergies anatomy lab bedside manner bigotry breast cancer cancer caregiver stories caregiving chemotherapy child abuse childbirth children chronic illness complementary therapies connecting with patients coping with death coping with illness coping with patient death cross-cultural health care cultural competence death and dying death of a parent dementia depression diabetes disability doctor-patient communication doctor-patient relationship doctor as patient doctor poems doctor stories drug addiction end of life end of life decision making faith family medicine forgiveness frustration with healthcare system genetic disorders geriatrics getting the news healing health care policy health care politics health insurance HIV humor ill parent immigration inequality international health labor and delivery leukemia medical errors medical student stories medical training medicine memorable patients mental health mental health professional stories mental illness military medicine miracles miscarriage mistakes neuroscience nurse poems nurse stories ob/gyn palliative care parent stories Parkinson's disease patient-centered care patient poems patient stories pediatrics personal remembrance physician assistant stories poem poems/poetry pregnancy PTSD race realizing human mortality resident stories role modeling self care social determinants of health social issues social worker stories spirituality stress and burnout suicide surgery thanksgiving the bad doctor visuals war veteran
Scroll to Top