The Gift

Usually I am suspicious of book recommendations even from friends. It's been difficult to find both the time in my busy schedule and the willpower to spend my free time leisure reading. Sometimes the last thing I want find relaxing is the very same thing I do daily as an assignment. Granted, school reading is infinitely drier than your typical best-seller, but all the same, reading for leisure places second or third on my list of "fun things to do." But, this recommendation peaked my curiosity: Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach discusses the modern and historical use of body donors, including their use in medical education. She discusses the ancient procurement of anatomy lab subjects under sometimes suspicious circumstances, as well as the modern use of volunteer donors and their altruistic gift in everything from training doctors and medical students to forensic scientists who use their experiments with victims in various states of decay to help prosecute crimes. Ms. Roach, in honest, plain language discusses the process of anatomical donation and its uses without hiding her emotions and thoughts, portraying the feelings and views of those who benefit directly from the selflessness of others in their training and research. I believe that Stiff accurately represents the gratitude and life-long beneficial effect that medical students like me feel towards their donors.

Near the end of anatomy I began to feel as if Martha was something more than a selfless, generous individual from whom I'd been able to learn the intricacies of human anatomy. In a very real way, I felt like she was my first patient. And I fundamentally feel that encouraging medical students and the general public to view the experience of the anatomy lab as medical students' first patient encounter is a valuable distinction. The precedent is then set for young physicians to recognize the ways in which our patients teach us about themselves, ourselves, and medicine. My donor has already done all the teaching; she asked me for nothing - no prognosis, diagnosis, or therapeutic advice. Anatomical donors have selflessly taught without complaint. It is worthwhile, then, to realize that as we later encounter patients who walk, talk, have concerns, and even complaints that our first doctor-patient relationship consists of a completely one-sided lesson for the learner. Martha gave me a privileged and unique experience selflessly. When I contemplate anatomy on a daily basis nearly three years after I met her, I remember the gift she provided me: a three-dimensional, tangible tutorial that I use on a daily basis.

By sharing a couple of selected moments of memory from my anatomy experience, I hope that I can communicate the amount of thankfulness I feel for my donor and all those who help others learn and discover through schooling and research.

I remember my very first day of anatomy lab. I was so glad to have begun medical school. I'd hoped for so long to be selected for medical school, and this in so many ways was the culmination of so much I'd hoped. I'd met Mark, my dissection partner, the week before, and we'd quickly become close friends, sharing worldviews and interests. We met and changed into scrubs and lab coats. As the "A & B" team, we were the first to meet and begin the dissection, and we both felt a strange sense of hesitancy and apprehension about the upcoming weeks. We paused quickly to pray together in thanks, then began the process. Two hours passed hurriedly without Mark and I making much progress. We were frightened to do anything wrong, asking myriads of questions about small concerns. The final hour of allotted time was saved for teaching the other members of our group. They dutifully marched in, eager to learn the day's assigned material. We had little to teach, and Mark and I apologized profusely. We hurried home to eat a quick bite, with the plan of returning to finish our task. My parents had decided to surprise me with filet mignon. The avocado green shade of my expression communicated my inability to partake in the evening meal. That night found Mark and I dissecting away, the first of many long nights and early Saturdays in the anatomy lab.

Finally, I remember vividly the opportunity to formally thank, on behalf of the entire class of medical students, the families of our donors at the annual memorial service held at Wright State. I remember glancing quickly at my notes, my knees shaking behind the podium, thinking that I was, even as I spoke, learning more and more of what Martha had taught me. I did my best to include my true gratitude for the gift of a truly unique, incredibly valuable, life-long gift. I do not hesitate to suggest that I think of Martha each and every time I contemplate anatomy in my diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Andrew Jacques ('05)