Learning anatomy has always been a passion of mine, but up until medical school, I had only learned from cartoons or sketches in a textbook. My cadaver or donor (donor is what my classmates and faculty call cadavers) gave me the gift of learning the true structure of a human body.
Walking into the lab that first day was a humbling experience. As my classmates and I slowly and carefully uncovered our donor, I saw her not as a study tool but a human being who had graciously donated her body so that I could learn.
While my classmates got instructions about the dissection assignment that day, I quickly grabbed my donor’s cloth-covered hand and said a quick little prayer for the both of us. I thanked her and God for this opportunity to learn.
The inner intricacies of humanity
As the dissection assignments continued throughout the semester, I kept thinking about how my donor and the other donors were instructing us first-years on the inner intricacies of humanity.
As we studied the upper extremity, I wondered how many children and grandchildren, if any, my donor’s arms held. I wished her lungs could reveal if she was an athlete or a couch potato like me, who only runs when chased.
As we studied the GI system, I wondered about my donor’s favorite foods and whether she cooked and shared dinners with a family. Studying the heart made me wonder who the love of her life was and how much she was loved. I hope it was a lot.
I thought about whether she had the larynx of a good singer and whether she was soft-spoken or loud and proud.
As we studied my donor’s perfectly crafted eyes, I kept imagining the wonders they had seen. Had they gazed upon tragedy and beauty in equal measure?
‘I never stopped wondering about the life she lived’
My first year of medical school was memorable for the hours spent in my donor’s company. While I marveled at the complexity of the human body’s anatomy, I never stopped wondering about the life she lived and why she chose to donate her body.
Looking back at our hours upon hours of time together, I hope my donor realized the impact she would have on the lives of so many others. Her anatomical gift is the basis of everything I’ll learn in medical school and will help every patient I treat in the future.
Studying diseases, I flash back to her body and recall how it was organized. It will always be her body that I remember when I’m helping patients.
Osteopathic medicine teaches us that the mind, body, and spirit are interconnected. My time spent with my donor is a perfect example of the intertwining of these three aspects. My mind learned from her body, and though it is hard to explain, I felt our spirits connect.
I hope to see my donor in heaven one day and hear all about her life.