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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