Notes from a Medical Student:

The Greatest Gift

As I stood there in my white lab coat, I felt intimidated. In a way, I felt that I shouldn't be. For four years, before I was accepted at Wright State University School of Medicine I spent some sixty hours a week in an inner-city emergency center. I remember the gunshot victims rolling in on stretchers and the packed waiting room, swelling with the suffering and the impatient. I worked third shift during those four years, staying up late into the night to watch the sick and suffering of Cincinnati. It was a wake-up call for this twenty-year old Classics major at the time--a brief glimpse into the atrocities that bug and man can create. It was my trial by fire and an experience that would either solidify my desire to practice medicine or destroy it entirely. As fate had it, my desire to become a physician grew, and I found myself increasing my hours after graduation. The masochist in me began to take hold, and I became convinced that if I can survive this, then I just might make a good physician.

There were scenes and experiences that I took part in that have been engraved in my memory. I remember a homeless patient who had scabies over his entire body. I remember an HIV-positive woman who rolled into the emergency room at the height of a rush of trauma patients. She had cut her hand severely, and a large bandage and mass of clotted blood clumped together where her index finger used to be. As I stood before this woman, I felt concern and worry for her, yet at the same time I felt fear for myself. I remember the first patient who I did CPR on, but despite our intervention, died. His name was Marcus.

I have seen and experienced situations other first-year medical students have not and perhaps will not see for another year to come. However, despite all these experiences, I still stood there back in September of last year, and was humbled and fearful. Before me, lay my greatest teacher. The white sheet covering him hung there like a stage curtain waiting to open. The class was Human Anatomy, and this was the donor upon which I would learn firsthand the intricate design of the human body.

It's a strange feeling to be given an experience such as this. You feel like an astronaut on his or her first trip to the stars. So I steeled myself and drew back the covering to begin my examination of this donor and my career as a physician. At first, I had a great doubt in my mind. How would I ever learn all this? I looked from head to toe over this brave donor lying before me. Every intricacy of this design lay before me. Then I felt elated. I realized that however one sees the human body, by God's or evolution's design, doesn't take away from the fact that you stand in awe of this complex and highly adaptable design. So many anatomists and healers have come before us and mastered an intimate understanding of us as flesh and blood beings. Where they have gone we, too, must follow.

As time wore on in the class, the amount of information increased. It was overwhelming, and there were times when it felt like too much, and at one point your mind would suddenly shut-off, like the click of the nozzle when you've filled the gas tank to full. In the end, what kept me going was awe and fascination. You can't help but be drawn to the information, to learn what makes us lift our arms, allows us to smile, or even take five steps towards the door.

All this I learned from my donor, a man who lived a lifetime before I was even born. Throughout that lifetime, he had been overseas and traveled. He had suffered, rejoiced, hated, and loved. I'd like to believe that the vast spectrums of human emotions are experienced by all of us. Throughout all our experiences, our bodies are there with us, up to the end. In only nine weeks, we had soaked up a vast amount of information about the human body at the gross level. The final exam came and went. I answered the last questions on my donor and then bid him farewell. I never saw and will never see him again, but I can never forget. It almost feels like he was some supernatural being who appeared suddenly one day to teach me all about the human body and then disappeared just as mysteriously. I often think it's very ironic that the greatest contribution to raising physicians is giving over oneself. As for me, I passed the class, but more importantly, I can't forget it.