Tears Should Be Surprising

Wynne Morrison 

Tears should be surprising.

He is, after all, well over six feet tall,
must top 250 pounds,
always quick and confident
with a joke upon his lips.

Most of his patients weigh a pound or two.
Eyes fused shut, translucent skin,
with lives of needles, tubes,
machines and probing hands.
On this week there are too many
who will never have a chance.

Chocolate, silence, and he hauls
himself up from the office couch.
“At least I can still cry,” he says
and turns back up the stairs to work.

About the poet:

Wynne Morrison is a pediatric critical-care and palliative-care physician in Philadelphia. “The patients and families I care for are almost always enduring incredibly difficult emotional situations. Writing helps me slow down to be able to acknowledge that what I see does impact me.”

About the poem:

“This poem was based on a real incident where a ‘tough’ trainee let down his guard to show for a moment just how much his patients’ deaths affected him. Then he moved on to get back to work. I think both responses are emblematic of how one can acculturate oneself to a life in medicine–you have to figure out how to handle the emotion, and at the same time work through how to go on caring for the patients. I wrote the poem because it perfectly illustrates that one can do the latter while still remembering to be human.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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7 thoughts on “Tears Should Be Surprising”

  1. Toni Koch RN, BSN

    Touching; beautiful. The only area of nursing I can effectively focus on the care and assistance for clients and family facing loss of their loved ones, and death has been hospice and long term care; primarily adult health. Despite all the possible positive outcomes, I can not imagine facing such loss with children, infants and their families. I admire all who are a part of pediatric medicine. I thank you and God for your heroic gifts.

  2. Well done–the balance between professionalism and humanity, and how we continue to provide excellent care in stressful situations.

  3. Wynne- beautifully wrought poem, capturing something that we hope to uncover through our next reflective writing assignment for our first year medical students: too often emotions gets compartmentalized, then further ignored, and finally extinguished….

  4. Very nice. A well-written and powerful poem stated concisely and effectively. And I like how it normalizes emotions, no matter who is experiencing them.

  5. Excellent, moving poem. I was a Clinical Psychologist who worked with many people with chronic mental illnesses, who hadn’t much hope for a life on their own. I went from that to living with a chronic health illness that has only palliative measures as ways to help. From one side of the sofa to the other, moving with compassion.

  6. Karen R. Richardson

    I am a Neuroscience RN, specializing in Epilepsy and I also did Pediatric Epilepsy. At that point, I had to share my compassion with chronic illness and patient death as well as my own daughter’s death. I reached out above and beyond to bear witness to the suffering and heartbreak, as though i had all the time in the world. Then I made another call. Well expressed poem and a credit to being a Provider. xo

  7. Thanks for this poem. I love what it says, and how clearly you have shown it!! It reminds me of the Healer’s Art class Hippocratic oaths, which are so profound. Bless you!!

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