Poetry, Medicine and the Border of Good

Having found myself  in quicksand as I work the nuances of good for this project, I find my range of considerations regarding good  has been expanded by that infinitely adaptive form of writing we call poetry .  My spouse has been an emergency room RN, hospice RN, pain specialist RN, and finally palliative care RN.  Some might say she has worked her entire career on a street called  “Pain  and Loss”.  That said in addition to her medical roles she has concurrently worked as  a poet and devoted herself to illuminating the medical world’s experience at a depth only someone who has companioned pain and loss could do.  Initially the word ‘good’ does not come immediately to mind when recounting the raw events of her professional journey.  For me though, she has made the unique lens of her poetry something that could bring into focus not only the gray dark shades of trauma, but the muted colors and tones that compose a deep “Sense of Goodness”.   

Recently I gratefully received a poem as a comment from a Medical Ethicist that you can read on the Conversation page of this website.  I have a profound admiration for these brave people who work in the breach of pain and loss and still throw more light than shade. The suffering of humanity seems to have the capacity to impact us by drawing out expressions from the poets among us offering a stem of redemption for the existential  dimensions of suffering.  I see medical poetry as a form of  spiritual survival language for people who have the courage to intentionally encounter crisis in the unfolding human story. 

I have come to believe medical poetry can be one of the most nuanced expressions of this thing our project is calling a ‘Sense of Good’.   How can you assign a particular quality, be it good, bad or indifferent to the depth and mystery of life and death?  Medical based poetry redeems by illuminating the whole picture including the terrifying beauty of human touch, empathy, and compassion expressed in settings most of us wish to avoid.  Some people say there are good deaths and some disagree vehemently, stating there is only death or that mortality is the enemy.  I am not here to settle the debate, but thanks to the poets among us who can create and arrange words with such staggering accuracy and honesty, I know there is beauty and goodness where the border of good meets the messengers of illness, loss, and death.  Many thanks to the medical profession and  its valiant poets  who redeem the inevitable outcomes of life with the healing touch of  language.

3 thoughts on “Poetry, Medicine and the Border of Good

  1. Thank you for your insight. Medicine teaches profound humility, essentially faced with the “tremendum” often without the means to alter the etiology of patient suffering. After all, suffering is the ultimate common denominator of the human experience. The greatest credential of good physicians is the processing of their own pain. The most precious gift of the practice of medicine is being witness to the grandeur of the human spirit as it is confronted by that which is not understood by the human mind, sometimes with a merciless crushing force, but met with a grace, generosity, and determination emanating from the divine within.


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