Body of Knowledge

Having just finished our gross anatomy course, I have mixed feelings about the use of cadavers in medical training.

Before our final exam on Monday, we visited with our “lady” one last time. I know the scene sounds strange, even macabre, but there was a certain reverence there. Her body, I am sorry to admit, is only the tattered remains of what it once was. We have dissected much and it is difficult now to look at her and remember she once was a person.

The hardest day for our group (I work with two Jewish students and one deist) was when we uncovered her face. Before that day, we religiously assured her face was hidden behind the opaque cloth we use to cover the body. As we prepared to learn about the veins, arteries, nerves, and muscles of the face, however, we had to remove the cloth. It had previously been fairly easy to forget she had once been a person, but as we uncovered her countenance, we remembered with acute sorrow that this woman had once been alive.

I think her eyes were most haunting. The eyeballs had been preserved and, though they were robbed now of light, they still had an eerily human look to them. I realized then, as I had not before, this woman has a family, and probably friends. There was likely a funeral and someone certainly shed tears when she passed away. Indeed, this was all more poignant for me because my grandfather passed away in the same month I started my class.

Still, as we met in the lab the other day to say “goodbye” and to pay respects, we each took a turn audibly saying thank you. Odd? Perhaps. Incongruous? I’m not sure.

Certainly, there was something strange about trying to hallow that formaldehyde-soaked room. And yet, as I reflect on that experience, I cannot help but think her gift was not in vain. Now, when I look at someone play the piano, or run, or stand, or blink, or speak, my mind can see the muscles and blood flow and neurons working in a kind of miraculous harmony.

I have no doubt this will change the way I practice medicine. Whether I practice surgery or not, the lady who donated her body forever changed my manner of viewing human health and disease. I believe–or at least I hope–I will be both more empathetic and more skilled because of her posthoumous gift to me.

Indeed, with her gift she extended the legacy of her life by allowing us to become more capable of improving and extending the lives of others. I hope not inappropriately, we are thankful to her and the many others who have sacrificed for the betterment of those left here after the deceased pass away.

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Published in: on August 3, 2006 at 11:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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