Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Gordon L. Kauffman
Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA

Poet’s statement: While I was participating in a short-term surgical project to Malawi, a nutritionally depleted, malaria-ridden, young boy from Mozambique was brought to the hospital. His abdomen was distended and his abdominal examination revealed peritonitis. The only familiar face in the hospital was his mother’s. While preparing him for surgery, I looked at him carefully, as he did me. His eyes and body language reflected terror, understandable at his age with severe pain and unfamiliar surroundings. During surgery the typhoid perforation was identified and closed. After a rocky postoperative course, he recovered. Knowing death is a frequent visitor in his society, the nurses and physicians dubbed him “Miracle.”

Photography by Steve Evans


In this desolate place they call him Miracle:
Wasted, defenseless, and ravaged,
His distended abdomen draped by skeletal arms.

Typhoid may lurk in that belly.
He winces with every movement,
Catches with every breath.

Brown iris halos float in vast white scleras,
Dilated pupils refract vulnerability
At these wholly unfamiliar visions and odors.

When has he seen such white sheets
Or smelled iodine?
When has he seen tiled floor
Or blood on it?
That day watching his sister die . . .

Anesthesia, incision, inflammation,
Raw blood- and bile-stained viscera.
I explore until juice oozes from the puncture,
Repair it, watch saline irrigations run clear.
It is finished.

Now, from cool cotton sheets
His breathing easy,
Softer eyes glance at me.
A legitimate claim to his new name.



GORDON L. KAUFFMAN, JR., MD was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and received his Doctor of Medicine degree and general surgery training at the University of Michigan. In 1985 he joined the faculty at the Penn State University College of Medicine as professor of surgery and physiology and chief of the division of general surgery. Attracted to the strong humanities department at Penn State University College of Medicine, Kauffman was an inaugural member of the Penn State Hershey Physicians Writers Group. Photography and writing have since become creative outlets for his endeavors with surgical projects in developing countries.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Fall 2011 – Volume 3, Issue 3

Fall 2011  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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