Saturday, September 30, 2006

In Loving Memory of our Cadavers

"My mother never liked to waste anything."

So, he told me, that's why his mother wanted medical students to be able to learn from her body.

"She never threw anything out, really. And even when she was dying, she didn't want to be buried or cremated. She thought that was a waste. And she never liked to waste anything."

I don't usually leave a memorial service really impacted by the things that were said.

Then again, I don't usually go to memorial services for people whose bodies I have seen fully exposed internally and externally, for people whose organs I have held in my hands, people who have taught me so much more than some teachers ever could. What a fascinating and unusual experience.

Among a couple choir songs, a piano performance and a candlelight procession, there were a few reflections and readings of poems. One of the student speakers talked about the courage that the body donors showed by giving their "most personal possession" to us. We med students often discuss whether or not we think we could donate our bodies, knowing what is done to them - even though they are treated with the utmost respect (as I
mentioned earlier), and what we do is done all the time in routine autopsies, it is still so generous of them to grant amateurs the opportunity to learn so much from them.

Another speaker said the following:

When I study their eyes, I wonder about the things they saw.
When I their arms, I wonder about the people whose lives they touched.
When I study their hearts, I wonder about the people they loved.

I can relate. I thought I'd get desensitized, and I have in a sense, it's not like the first day where I didn't know what to expect. But still, each week in anatomy lab I spend a good part of the time there overwhelmed by the fact that this isn't a "specimen" but a person.

I wish more of the students in our class showed up. Of a few hundred first- and second-year students, only about 30 showed up, and half of them were directly involved. Being there, and actually talking to the families was a great experience. It makes the donors more human. The only identifying characteristic to date is that my cadaver is the one on table 32.

Even before today I know I will never forget what I've already learned from my cadaver, which is already in a quanitity much greater than any anatomy book has ever taught me. By going to this service, I developed a whole new level of respect and gratitude for the body donors. Even though I knew they were people who lived lives and had loved ones cry at their deaths, I had never seen the people who they lived their lives with, nor watched their loved ones cry. Until today.


Justin said...

Like most programs, the first component of our basic science education is Anatomy, and the Med1s are pulled in with the same level of wonder and excitement as you have recounted.

Before each of their practicals, each anatomy group is given three tags and three items to tag on their body. With 38 bodies, one has the opportunity to go around the rooms, identifying the tagged structures as practice. I went back this year, thinking it would be a great opportunity to review anatomy. It reminded me of my own first experience with anatomy.

Anonymous said...

Very nice entry. I remember giving a party for family members of donated cadavers in our first year of Pod school. It was interesting to learn some of their histories.

Al Kline DPM

Anonymous said...

That is very nice to hear. I'm a nursing student and I had a patient a couple of weeks ago whose body was donated to a medical school. I'm glad to hear that his gift will be appreciated.