Anatomy Donor Celebration 2021
Reflections by the Class of 2025, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University
These reflections by first year medical students were chosen by their peers and by the narrative medicine team to be shared at a recent donor recognition ceremony thanking the families of those who donated their cadavers for use in the anatomy lab. Students were asked to reflect on the anatomy class, a rite of passage for all beginning medical students. These essays and poems published here were among those read by students at the ceremony. Many family members were in attendance.
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By: Michael Najac
I was surprised when we first met. I’d expected to be nervous no one else around me seemed nervous. Should I have been? I’d seen so much of you, but never even got your name. With every part of you on display, I only managed to piece together a glimpse of how you lived, never who you are. You had pneumonia I knew that. I saw it in the dark lines of your lungs. You had a big heart. I held it in my hands. I explored its contents.
Even still, I could only describe you as parts of a whole. I said good morning to you. Every morning, out loud sometimes in case you couldn’t hear me. I’m not much of a talker either, but I did enjoy your company.
I’m still impressed by how much you taught and how much I was able to learn. So much so that I can’t shake the feeling of the debt I owe you. The guilt of the days I’d wake up and think “God I just want to be a psychiatrist” right after I’d say good morning. In hindsight, I try to think it is a good thing. You have shown me how wonderful of a thing the human body is. How frustrating it can be, how ingenious its design. How hollow it can feel once you made it along to the other side. How important it is to look after what we cannot see no matter how much we dissect.
Or maybe you weren’t saying anything at all.
One day I know we’ll finally meet in person and you can tell me all about it. Nevertheless, I am not in any rush. I like the answer I have now. I am happy with the person I met. Above all, I am grateful for the time we had together.
By: Alexis Wright-Spadaro
We unzipped you, not just the white stiff bag that you currently get to call home but literally you. I unzipped every layer of you to explore, to discover, to peak into the unknown that lay beneath your pale, tan, rigid skin.
We dissected you, from head to toe. Separating anything that could be distinguished, which was extraordinarily little with my untrained eye, from fascia, muscle, nerve, and bone. I could not help but dissect your reasoning to be here on this table. Did you know that we would go to such depths to learn from you? Did you really know what was being asked of you? How did you come to say... yes?
We connected because of you. Thrown into a group of 5 based on where we fell in line alphabetically. Our backgrounds vary from age to race to our experience. But you were our common ground, our first sense of familiarity. Our first topic of discussion. I wonder who you else you connected. As an engineer did you lend a hand back to bring someone else forward. In your 86 years of life did you foster beautiful or broken relationships with a partner or partners, with children or none, with friends. Who else got to benefit just by being in proximity to you.
Now, we are leaving you. Even in your leaving you did not really leave. You found some way to continue to be a part of something, to touch something, to bring value and importance to something. I suppose that something is me or us and our education.
I am leaving you to finally rest. I try to separate our first encounter from our last but it is nearly impossible for me to do so. Every day felt like the first time. And honestly, I hoped every day would be the last. Our time together has truly come to an end and I get to grapple with the entire experience. These questions I have for you will never leave me. They will never be answered… All I will ever know is that you have lived and died and changed me.
By: Tomas Mauricio Prudencio
Dr. Griffin introduced us. She had bright pink nails, short hair, a pronounced mole on her left shoulder, and lifeless skin. I stared at her, clueless and intrigued. With more questions than answers, I was frustrated with the limited information we had about her. The spreadsheet taped to the stainless steel and glass cabinets indicated she was in her late 70s and lost her life to neurovascular disease. Who was she? What was her favorite meal? Did she like to watch sports or perhaps dance? Her humanity seemed lost as she lay there face down with nothing but an age and cause of death. Frustrated, puzzled, nervous yet excited, I looked at her and hoped I would fulfill her expectations. I wondered if she had thought about what it would be like to teach us after she passed.
With her head covered in plastic, face down, and her vertebra split open lengthwise to reveal her spine; I looked at my group members standing quietly around her. Then, warily touching her back and examining the muscles around her neck, I paused to collect my thoughts before making my first incision. During my path to medical school, I have dealt with death, both inside and outside the hospital. However, now I was interacting with someone who decided to gift us her being. I acknowledge the privilege we have, and I hope we fulfilled her expectations. I am forever grateful for having had the opportunity to learn from her.
You Smelled Cookies
By: Katherine Peake
You smelled cookies, your mother’s perfume, and fresh cut grass outside. I smelled formaldehyde.
You felt the fabric of your favorite dress as you prepared for your first dance. I felt my hands tremble as I uncovered the gauze to expose your back as I made my first glance.
You listened to music, your husband’s sweet whispers, and your child’s first word. I listened to the metal tools clink against the table as we continued to move forward.
You saw sunshine, snow, and your children grow. I saw the most valuable gift toward my education, and I wish you could know.
Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org