Archive for December, 2007

On Giving and Gross Anatomy

December 25, 2007

Of late, school has gotten rather hectic, and it has cut down somewhat on my writing time.  And so, here are a few pertinent entries I’ve made on my old xanga that I thought I’d transplant here in the meantime.

On Giving and Gross Anatomy, Posted Dec 25th, 2007

It is Christmas Eve, a rare quiet night in the house, and the lights of southern San Francisco are particularly pretty this evening.  On top of just having finished my first block of medical school, I think now is as good a time as any to reflect in general, but tonight on giving in particular.

They always say it is better to give rather than receive; that there is more joy in making someone else happy than in simply being the recipient of some worldly item.  I had to make a run down to Stonestown today to pick up a last minute gift as an errand for my mother.  It was a quick in and out operation, but I lingered for a while, and basically just wandered about people watching.  I got to thinking as I meandered around the mall about all the gifts that these people are buying, and how tomorrow morning there will be droves of happy children, spouses, parents, friends and relatives gleefully tearing open an assortment of gaily wrapped presents as the purchasers look on.  But then Boxing Day rolls around, and the 27th and 28th and January and February and March, and people start taking those gifts for granted, plucking their gifted clothes from the wardrobe or cashing in their gift cards without a thought as to how it came to be in their possession in the first place.  I’m not trying to make a judgment (lord knows, I’m lucky if I can remember who gave me what long enough to fire off the thank you cards), but an observation of how these gifts that we receive soon blend into our other possessions, and thus lose the transient luster conferred upon an item carefully selected, gift wrapped, and given in love or friendship.

However, there are always exceptions, times when you get ready to put on that wrist watch your mother gave you two years ago at Christmas, or pull on the battered baseball glove from your 19th birthday (yes, I know that most normal people get baseball gloves when they are like seven, but I was a bit behind the curve).  You get these items out and you pause, and you remember and appreciate not just the gift, but the person who gave it.

Last week, on Tuesday the 18th, we took our Anatomy final and I saw my cadaver for the last time.  Unfortunately I missed my chance to pay my last respects to him before he was sent off to be cremated.  To be honest, I felt quite guilty about having missed my chance, which I attribute to not properly honoring the amazing gift that the body donor had made.  I imagine that it is not an easy thing to give up your body to science, to allow the remaining physical husk of the person that you once were to be picked at and prodded by medical students with good intentions but unpracticed hands.  Even so, it cannot be reiterated enough just how amazing a gift the donors give to us; through their donation they not only teach us anatomy in the most basic sense (the head bone is connected to the neck bone . . . ) but also a whole spectrum of valuable lessons that are generally not contained in textbooks.

They have given me the gift of wonder at holding a human brain in my hands, they’ve taught me how to work in a stressful situation with a team, why you insert a chest tube above a rib rather than below it, as well as that no matter how lifeless, mutilated and cold the body was on the table, that the instinct to hold his hand was always subtly present.  I bring all this up because I want to thank whomever it was who donated his body for that amazing gift, for allowing me the chance to learn these amazing lessons.  I sincerely hope that as I continue my medical carrer that, like a well-appreciated present, I will remember this gift and the person who gave it.  When I place a femoral catheter on the medial side of the femoral pulse, I hope I will not forget, and still be able to pause from time to time and remember the amazing gift that has taught me that and innumerable other lessons.

This is certainly the season for giving, but it is also the season for valuing the gifts that you have received, and recognizing the people who have given them to you.  It is thus in this spirit that I wish to say thank you to my cadaver for the use of his body, and to reassure him that his sacrifice will not be forgotten.

I hope that is not too morbid for you guys, especially now on Christmas Eve (well, Christmas Day now, but whatever).  At anyrate, merry Christmas everyone, and best wishes to all of you in the new year.