Good Bye

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp, Rembrandt van Rijn

Today I am saying my final goodbye to the person who donated his body so that I may learn something about human anatomy. It is a somber moment for me. Over the past 7 weeks, I have been able to get to know my donor’s body on a very intimate level. I have viewed nearly every muscle, artery, vein, and nerve that he had. I have learned about the way the human body works through him. I’ve been able to hold his brain in my hands, see the way tightening a muscle helped him make a fist, and watch the vagus nerve creep from the brain to every portion of his torso. There were times when it was unpleasant. There were times where it felt invasive. There were times, like when we performed the pelvic dissection or the sagittal cross-section of the head, that I wondered whether or not I should be doing this. All of that being said, it has been a truly special experience.

Because this time has been so special to me and because I have gotten to know my donor’s body so well, I wish I knew who this person was. I wish I knew his name. What did he do for a living? Did he have children? …grandchildren? …great grand children?  Was he a war veteran? Was he from Massachusetts? I wish I knew anything about him, anything. The only things I know are things I learned from dissection, like the fact that he had, and probably died from, metastatic cancer. I could imagine the many surgeries that he underwent. I imagined his day-to-day pain levels due to his massively dilated colon, blocked urinary tract, and other complex issues. I wondered how he suffered, if the last part of his life was comfortable, and how his family was affected by his suffering. For me, not knowing who he was or what he meant to other people makes it that much more difficult to say goodbye. How does one say a meaningful goodbye to a person he only knows superficially? I feel so close to him because I know what his liver looks like, but I feel so distant because I just recently learned his age, which is the only thing of any substance I really know about him.

So, today I will say goodbye to my donor, who I will not give a false name to (like Mr. X), nor will I arbitrarily assign any other attribute to. I will just thank him for his amazing gift to me and my group. I will thank him for his contribution to medicine. I will give thanks to his family and friends. I will take a moment, a moment with just me and him. I will try my best to do his donation justice. So, thank you, sir. Thank you for your gift t me. I wish you and your family well. I will never forget you.

4 thoughts on “Good Bye

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have arranged to donate my body to the state for medical school anatomy labs but your post made me realize that I also need to leave my story for the students who will work on it. The questions in your post will guide me in writing my story so students will know the story behind the physicality of my body. Good luck to you!

  2. That was really touching … and unique. I know most people would distant themselves from someone they had to cut open in order to enhance their learning experience. Whether they do it involunterily or on purpose it’s just how most people react. But the fact that you’re taking time to recognize this person as a human being and give them respect and thank them shows me what a wonderful person you are and what a great doctor you will make one day. Good luck for the future!

  3. Howdy! This blog post couldn’t be written much better! Looking at
    this post reminds me of my previous roommate!

    He always kept talking about this. I am going to send this article to him.
    Pretty sure he’ll have a very good read. Thanks for sharing!

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