The following poem is written by Helen DeCrane Roth, U.S. Navy Nurse, assisting on Jerry Stadtmiller’s 13 hours long surgery…
Eyes are the mirror of the soul,
a bodily organ projecting emotions
which can’t be hidden.
My eyes are the only part of my face
which speaks to you
in the confusion of our surroundings
You are watching my eyes
for some sign to assure you
that perhaps the blood you tasted swallow until it chokes you,
is not your own.
You seek some assurance
that the burning pain of your seared flesh
will cease when you awake
from what you hope
is some demented joke or diabolical dream.
There is an immediate bond between us.
The lower half of my face is concealed
by a surgical mask.
The lower part of yours,
torn away by an act of war.
Your attempt to speak is futile,
terror strikes your eyes
as you begin to strangle.
Your hands gesture frantically
communicating your fear.
As you reach toward your face
my hands catch yours.
Our eyes lock,
I must decide if the reassurance you seek
should be the truth or
Certainly, it would be easier to say,
“Lay quiet, everything will be alright.”
But my eyes would attest to the lie
and I feel you would live to hate me for it.
The truth is,
I have never seen a man
with the lower half of his face torn
There is little remaining to identify you,
yet here you lie, awake and staring
Wanting an answer to the question:
“Please! How bad is it?”
My insides churn,
I’d like to turn and run,
bury my head in someone’s shoulder,
scream, then cry.
Instead, I swallow hard,
wipe the blood from your eyes
and tell you the truth, pausing momentarily
will try our very best.
You reach up and take the mask from my face.
A smile of encouragement and tear‑filled eyes
I am touched by the humanity
In the 13 hours that follow,
we try to reconstruct your face.
Are we playing God?
Later, your head a mass of bandages
and drainage tubes,
your eyes say it all.
“I made it!”
In the hours that follow
as sleep eludes me,
Will you live to curse us
for your life
or will your courage overcome
the obstacles ahead?
Years have passed
and I am seeing your eyes again.
I see the hope and courage I saw then
and silently pray
that this is true
rather than to think
your life became so unbearable,
your emotional pain so intense,
you chose an abrupt and brutal end.
I will take my mask off
if it will help
But when I start to cry,
I am afraid
I won’t be able to stop.
I need to know that your wounds healed,
that you can smile again
Then I, too, will be at peace.
Helen DeCrane Roth