From an Anatomy Graduate Student
Good afternoon! My name is Leslie Sewell. I am now beginning my 2nd year as a PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Education and Anatomy. I have had the privilege of working as a graduate teaching associate for both graduate and undergraduate anatomy courses.
A faculty member's career can span almost 40 years. In just teaching undergraduate anatomy, their class size can reach approximately 2000 students. Over a 40-year teaching tenure, this would be 80,000 students over their tenure. If we account for their numerous student interactions per week in a semester and the multiple anatomy courses they teach to both undergraduate, graduate, and other professional schools, the numbers can reach over 5 million.
I have had the honor during this year to work as one the student chair representatives for the Anatomy Memorial Service Committee. Through this committee, we had the rare opportunity to recount cherished stories of your loved ones. Through the memories that you have shared and the stories you have told, we were able to have a glimpse of the remarkable lives of these generous people.
But their story has not stopped. Their story endures. They tell us about their lives through the frame of our observations. With each finding, they force us to tackle our vulnerabilities and imperfections in both our knowledge of human anatomy and in our own humanity. A willing leader and a paramount model of the sacrifices we must learn if we wish to effect real differences in the lives of our future patients and students. They inspire us to better. Their willingness to share themselves for pedagogy is the noblest act. They share with us the beauty and the mystery of the human body They have forever changed our lives.
As future physicians, researchers, and professors, we dream of having an impact on the lives of our future patients and students.
We want to make a mark on this world, leaving it better than how we found it.
All of us have this dream to one day leave a legacy. Know that every one of your family members has done just that…and we thank you.
From a Dental Student
Connection, selflessness, intellect, courage, bravery, generosity, inspiration, humanity, empowerment: your loved ones gave us insights on all of these and so much more. A year ago, I and every other student new to anatomy could never have guessed just how profound our education could be. I’m sure many of us went into our programs thinking anatomy would only be stressful, confusing, and exhausting. And while it was at times, it was by far more rewarding than anything else.
I can assure you the light, hope, and incredible influence your family members had on you all, was brought upon us as well. They helped provide the foundational expertise we all need to successfully begin our careers. We are blessed to have the depth of knowledge we now possess of the human body, from its development to functionality, to just how beautiful the complexity of humanity truly is. Over the years, we will save and improve the lives of many. I believe your loved ones deserve just as much credit for every life that we impact because, without their belief in our education and our future, it wouldn’t be possible.
Some of you may have needed time to adjust to your loved one’s decision to donate their body. We thought of you all meeting them for the first time, and as we reflected on the array of emotions we felt, we soon realized this emotion may be exactly how our patients will feel from time to time. Through this emotion, your loved ones gave us an understanding of how to connect with someone we barely know. They taught us how to channel our emotions into empathy and compassion, so we can be the best health providers we can. We undoubtedly gained more wisdom from them than any of us ever thought possible.
Your family members were a pivotal part of our education and became part of our family of peers as well. Though silent, they spoke volumes, taught plenty, and influenced us tremendously. So, we want to thank all of you for being here and celebrating the love and gratefulness we all have for them. We can’t give you the gift they gave us, but we can express our sincere gratitude and instill a sense of peace to you all, as your loved ones managed to carry on their legacy and touch our hearts beyond their passing. Through their honorable decision, they have already impacted so many lives and will only continue to impact so many more.
From a Medical Student
One of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, once said, "For in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being.” The greatest act of self, is self-giving, something that gives meaning and purpose to our lives like nothing else. Your loved ones gave of themselves to the very end, gave their very bodies, in order that they might continue to impact others beyond their last heartbeat. We are very grateful for their sacrifice. I felt an intimacy to our donors as I contemplated their hands that worked diligently to help others, their feet that took them down many paths in life, and their minds full of memories emotions. I wished, however, that I could have talked to them and known what made them laugh, what made them cry, and what gave them the strength to get out of bed each morning. It makes me glad though that their stories are not forgotten because of you all here today. Leave here today knowing that your donors were beautiful creations on the inside and out. I was awed every day studying the intricacies of their bodies, and I know the parts of them I could not see that you all experienced were beautiful as well. Leave here also knowing that we are grateful for your sacrifice as well. I know it was not easy for you all to give up your loved ones to such scrutiny; to allow things so private to go public. We treated them with respect and will strive to use what they taught us to be the best doctors we can. Finally, my experience with your loved ones taught me that life is fragile, some things are not made to endure. But other things are, most notably love, and I can see from you all that their love has endured on and continues to give. It is a reminder for me to invest in these things that last. One last word from Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who learned about what lasts by going through the Holocaust: “The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.”
From a Dental Student
I’m sure nearly all of you remember a time, maybe in middle school, when you’d walk into class and see sitting in the front of the room an old tube television on top of a rolling cart. You knew what time it was… movie time. Usually, these movies were lackluster, but at least it served as a nice break from whatever you were learning in class. I, however, remember watching one movie in 7th grade that I think has a special relevance today, Pay it Forward.
For those don’t know, the concept of paying it forward means that when someone does something gracious for you, you responding by doing 3 generous things for 3 separate people, and then they in return, must also pay it forward. The donors honored in today’s memorial service paid it forward to the fullest extent, giving to others with no expectation of return or payback. Through their donation, we as students were not only able to learn, but were able to experience the beauty of design, the harmony of the systems of the body, and the cohesive nature of life. As the future of the medical profession, we must ensure that every day in accordance with the generosity of the donors, continue and pay forward.
As future Doctors, Dentists, Nurses, Physical therapists, Ph.D. candidates, and the rest of the medical profession, we are called to fully pay forward the generosity of those who donated themselves to the anatomy program. Inspired by the donors, we take the idea of giving fully of ourselves and pay forward this gift to our patients, our research, and the world around us. Every treatment done, and every bit of research advancement made, will be done so, due to the donors - the effects of this, lasting far beyond a lifetime.
Even in death, the donors were able to give of themselves 100%, a debt that we as members of the medical community must strive to pay forward, every single day. Through the donors, the world will be a healthier and better place. The ever-lasting effects of the gifts of the donors will extend way beyond the classroom, but to every person with which we interact, and for that, we thank you.
From an Anatomy Graduate Student
Four years ago, I began my journey as a graduate student in the Anatomy program here at Ohio State. At the time, I was a newly minted college graduate, who had never before stepped foot into a gross anatomy lab. I was excited, yes, but to be honest, I was also a little scared. I knew that the experience in itself held a significance that I had never known, but I had no true concept of its depth, or of how greatly it would impact me. I can still remember walking into my first day of lab: the bright August sun pouring in through the windows; my heart racing with anticipation. As soon as we began the dissection, my anxiety was immediately transformed into utter fascination. I remember, as if it was yesterday, how I marveled at the intricacies of our anatomy - how form and function marry together to form such an elegantly crafted masterpiece that we call the human body.
I am now beginning my 3rd year of study as a PhD student in the Division of Anatomy, where I also serve as a graduate teaching associate. Through my teaching position thus far, I have had the privilege of working with close to 1000 professional students, including those from the medical, dental, physical therapy, and occupational therapy programs. Although I have had many meaningful experiences while working with students, there is one moment in particular that has made a lasting impression on me. Most students enjoy learning about the brain and its intricacies, but for some, seeing a human brain within their hands does so much more than intrigue them - it stops them in the tracks. This was very much the case for the particular moment that I would like to share with you all today. I remember walking by a dissection table, only to notice a student, speechlessly gazing down at a brain. As I approached the table, she suddenly looked up at me, her eyes filled with rapture and awe, and said “This is so amazing! This structure once controlled a person’s entire life - every thought that they ever had; every movement that they ever made; every emotion that they ever felt.” As she once again looked down at the brain, and then into my eyes, she exclaimed “Does this ever lose its wonder for you Meghan!?” Her reaction and response precisely embodied the very reason why I love teaching Anatomy and chose to pursue it as my career. One of the things that I love the most is being able to witness students experience a “moment” such as in this instance - a moment when they realize the magnitude of the precious gift that your loved one gave. This student realized that this brain was so much more than just an anatomical specimen, with features to identify and name. This structure once allowed an individual to love, to laugh, to cry. This brain represented the entire lifetime of an extraordinary person: a person who supported the promise and potential of students, who he or she would never even meet.
It is because of the selflessness and generosity of your loved ones, that I am able to pursue my passion for the study of Anatomy and obtain a doctoral degree. Your loved ones have taught me about so much more than just Anatomy though. Your loved ones have taught me that there are beautiful people in this world, who selflessly give the very last gift that they can, because they believe in the potential of students who will ultimately go on and impact the lives of thousands. I have learned that out of sadness and grief, hope and new beginnings arise, as students are given the opportunity gain knowledge that will lead towards better treatments for devastating diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Your loved ones have given me countless lessons on compassion and empathy, and have made me, at many times, in the stillness of a moment, stop and silently thank them for their generosity and selflessness. Above all, however, the most important lesson that your loved ones have taught me is to be more consciously aware and appreciative of life itself, and the gift that it truly is. While there are no words that I can offer to take away the pain and sadness that you feel, I pray that you find comfort in knowing that your loved ones have impacted the lives of many, many students, including myself, in such a powerful and positive way. Your loved ones live on through the gift of knowledge - a gift that truly endures.
From an Anatomy Graduate Student
You truly have no idea the impact that you and your family have had on hundreds of students here at Ohio State, but I hope to hear from some of these students today will help you better understand the legacy your loved one, and therefore all of you have created.
Imagine a world where everyone gives of themselves truly and selflessly in the name of something bigger than themselves. Something so big, that we are unable to even experience the effect of our gift in our own lifetime. For that is what your loved one has done. They believed in something so much bigger than themselves, something that will leave a lasting impression for generations to come.
These future doctors, dentists, and educators you see sitting in front of you will have numerous encounters with patients and students throughout their careers, and many lives will be saved and changed for the better. Without the generous and selfless donation that your loved one has made, none of this would be possible. We hope you realize what a lasting impact this gift will have on our society as a whole, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your gift and support.
From a Medical Student
I’m a first year medical student, and to all the donors and to you – their families and friends – I am so grateful. As I learned the intricacies of my donor’s body and followed his highway of arteries and veins, I imagined his life – his spouse and grandkids, his passions and career. There was something in the roughness of his hands that told of a life outdoors, something in the laugh lines on his face that told of a loving family. Many of us came to know our donors in that way. Some clues about their lives were real – pacemakers, clues of piercings, painted fingernails. Others were imagined – kids, grandkids, pets, hobbies.
For most of us, your family member was our first real patient. In working with your loved ones, we were forced to face some of the deepest questions of humanity: that of suffering, of sacrifice, of the human spirit and its limits. I know I grappled with that often.
While wrestling with these questions, I was inspired by the generosity of your loved one. You see, our anatomy professors – wonderful as they are – can only teach us so much with lectures and textbooks. To truly understand the human body, we needed to learn from the human body itself; these donors, these silent teachers, taught me more than any textbook could. They gave me silent lessons on what it means to be human. What makes us crawl and walk and dance and swim? What makes us smile and cry and yawn? What it takes to digest our mother’s lasagna or our spouse’s terrible first attempt at a home-cooked meal. More than that, they taught us the true limits of human generosity. They gave us the gift of themselves – and for that I am eternally grateful.
This day isn’t about us as students though; this is about celebrating your loved ones’ lives and their ability to give even after death. This is about their gift to their community and their world. Regardless of our chosen health profession, the knowledge we have gained from your family members will influence all of the lives we touch in our craft. I’ve been entrusted with their gift with the belief that I will pass that gift on – whether to fix a broken arm, do complex surgeries, or teach the next generation of physicians – and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. None of us do.
From all of the students, we say thank you – to the donors and to you – their family and friends.
From a Dental Student
I am a first year dental student and a recent graduate of the Anatomy Department. And because of that fact, I’ve had the honor of participating in this ceremony two years ago. It was in that time that I had asked a colleague of mine to give this speech, because I just couldn’t find the right words. At the beginning of this year, I thought that I might find myself in the same predicament. Fortunately, I happened to watch the film, “Wish I was Here” over Christmas break. And these may not be my words, but I believe that they perfectly say what my heart could not say two years ago. “Nothing in life will call upon us to be more courageous than facing the fact that it ends. But on the other side of heartbreak is wisdom.” I can’t honestly begin to fathom the kind of courage that it took for you and your loved ones to make the decision that you did. All I can say is that I hope you can find some solace in the fact that on the other side of that heartbreak an abundance of wisdom has been found. I am deeply sorry for your loss; but it is my deepest hope that each and every one of you can find peace in the fact that the professional students here today will be forever grateful for the bit of wisdom that you and your loved ones have granted us over this past year.
From a Medical Student
My first day in anatomy, I got to meet someone I didn’t know. And through the year, I got to know them.
I got to know someone so intimately. I know where their veins split, the contours of their muscles. I know the idiosyncrasies of their nerves, the quirks of their body. I know where their fat deposits are, the condition of their hearts, their lungs. And yet, I didn’t KNOW this person.
It was strange knowing a person, a human being, without knowing anything about their lives, their families, their dreams.
But actually, I know so much about them. I know they believed in something larger than themselves. They believed in humanity and morality and hoped to end human suffering.
Even in their passing, they wanted to continue to help others. It’s bone chilling – they had the foresight to ensure they would be able to, with the most selfless gift they could offer: their body.
And I know so much about their families. I know their families believed in something larger too. This person’s family, all of you here and those of you that couldn’t make it, had faith in the legacy it would leave behind. You delayed closure, so you could help others. Thank you for giving the world such a gift. Thank you for believing in medicine and the power to heal.
And most importantly thank you for believing in me, in us. We can do nothing short of carrying this legacy forth.
From a Dental Student
This legacy is a personal one. We never expected to connect as much as we did.
Maybe it was the manicured nails of a stylish grandmother, or the slender, toned muscles of a determined marathon runner. Perhaps it was the long, delicate fingers that gave away the creative artist, or the worn down hands of a hard-working mechanic that let their characteristics shine through to us.
The details of their skin, wrinkle lines, and body left all of us students wondering about the beauty they experienced in their lives. When we studied their hearts we wondered about those they have loved. When we studied their arms, we wondered about you, their families, which they got to embrace. When we studied their eyes we wondered about the beauty they saw.
Your family members have been our strongest mentors. Teaching us lessons that carry far beyond the classroom. Lessons that we, as students will never forget.
Your family members have taught us bravery and courage. Planning ahead to one’s own final day has to be incredibly trying. They’ve challenged us students to start to do the same. To consider the legacy we can leave behind. The courage to provide one’s most personal possession, one’s self, to future generations.
They’ve taught us about selflessness and altruism. Believing in us to learn all that we can from them. Faith that they can instill in us the key components to being the best providers; empathy, respect, and compassion. We don’t learn these traits reading our textbooks, or sitting through lectures. They are only taught to us through the silent words of your family members, our mentors. They’ve taught us, through example, the importance and strength of a human connection.
From an Anatomy Graduate Student
Your life is defined by the people in it. Life has surprised me with the many ways that this can be true. You are all here today because of someone in your life and the impact they had on those around them. Someone who made the world a better place, someone who loved and learned, someone who listened and spoke, someone you were close with, someone you respected, someone you cared about. I am also here because these same people have touched my life.
The time I have spent in this program has caused me to reflect on what the people in our lives mean and also how we affect the lives of those around us. Family and friends define us; we carry them with us in our hearts. I know I would not have had the opportunity to spend time with your loved one had it not been for the support of you all, their family. I know you all had faith in me too.
So we are grateful today not just to the people we are here to commemorate, but to you, their family and friends. Thank you for supporting your loved one. Thank you for supporting us. Now, we are here to support you. We’re here to join you in your grief and sorrow. The people we are here to remember made a difference in your life and in ours. We are here to celebrate these people. They are forever in our hearts and minds and memories.
From a Doctorate of Physical Therapy Student
Dear Family and Friends,
I want to express my sincere thanks for your family’s donation. Your loved one has given an incredible gift to my fellow classmates and me. I cannot imagine how difficult this decision was to make, but I can assure you that he was treated with kind hands, grateful hearts and the utmost respect. We never forgot that he was somebody’s somebody. His selfless act has given me the opportunity to learn more than I ever could from a textbook. Your loved one’s donation has inspired me to consider this for myself in the future. I hope you know how truly grateful I am for this gift. Best wishes to you and your family, and thank you again.
From a Medical Student
Like many of my classmates, on starting medical school I was excited that this day had finally come. I was incredibly nervous – so much had led up to and gone into preparations just to be here. We walked into our days of classes with anticipation, not knowing what to expect. Before our first day entering the anatomy lab, our professors and the men and women who cared for your loved ones did their best to convey the magnitude of generosity of the men and women we would soon meet, the reverence with which we were to treat them, and the sacrifice and love of their families – that we were to view this person as our first patient and care for them as such.
As we entered into the lab, we were all deep in thought – again we were nervous, possibly excited, but also somewhat unsettled. Who was this man or woman who would give of themselves so that we could learn? Who would entrust their body to the hands of medical students just beginning? It was strange at first, but as we went along, we WERE excited – the things we were learning, to be able to see firsthand the intricacies of the human body, to discover nuances that made our patient unique in their anatomy, to take the things we learned in a textbook and to be able to see them in another human being… it was breathtaking and truly amazing. As we learned more and more about the body of our patient, I couldn’t help but wonder with increasing curiosity – “Who was this woman? What was she like?”
At one point in our education, we began to study arms, and to do so I had to hold our patient’s hand. I looked down and was overcome with emotion. There’s something so intimate about a person’s hands – the scars, the callouses, the little things that make them truly unique. They tell a story. I looked down, and I was filled with wonder and humility at the same time. How many meals had these hands prepared? How many knees had these hands bandaged? How many tears had they dried? What hard work…labors of love… and moments of tenderness had they seen?
I think the most poignant part of our education this fall was being humbled by the men and women with whom we worked. To know that this was someone’s last act of love and of giving – that they would care enough about us, the next generation of medical professionals and students, that they would care so much for our education, for our future, people they never even met. And the humility in knowing that more than that, it was also a last act of love and giving for YOU, their family and loved ones – that they cared so profoundly and deeply for you that they would want YOU and your future children and grandchildren and friends to have the best quality of care, physicians and dentists, that they would entrust their bodies momentarily to us.
And as someone who was entrusted, ever so briefly, with one of your loved ones, I wish to assure you of many things – one, that your loved one was cared for, that they were treated with dignity and respect, that they were appreciated; two, that this was not a wasted experience, that myself and my colleagues will carry this experience with us the rest of our lives, that we learned not only about anatomy, but about the complexities, the fragility, and the beauty of life; and three, that we commit to you, the families and loved ones, that we will strive to be the best healthcare providers we can be, that we will care for each patient with equal diligence and respect, for YOU, and your families, and for your loved one who gave of themselves so selflessly – to honor them and the sacrifice that they, and you, made – this we promise you.
I hope and pray that you are able to find peace, that you know the profound love they had for you. As I said before, the words I have are not adequate. And so all that I can say is thank you. Thank you for honoring the wishes of your loved one. Thank you for trusting us, for allowing us to learn through them. We thank you, as we also thank them.
From a Medical Student
We are thankful for the opportunity to express to you our gratitude for the privilege of learning from your loved ones. We recognize that each donor represents a loss-- the loss of a husband, a wife, a brother, a sister, a friend. We want to recognize that each of these donors represents more than a loss. For each of the students, they represent a beginning.
When we walked into our first anatomy classes, many of us were unaware, and frankly, nervous about where the next months would take us. Through it all, we will never forget the story we were told on our first day- that we would have teachers who spent their lives working for us, and who did everything they could to help us learn, even in death. And our professors were right- these were the greatest teachers we have ever known.
Right now, you may be confused about why your loved ones made that decision. You may be proud of them; you may be celebrating the life they lived. You are undoubtedly feeling nostalgic. We hope that we can add one more emotion. Reassurance. We want to reassure you that your loved one’s loss and their gift of knowledge were incredibly profound, and they will never be forgotten.
The members of our class spent countless hours with your loved ones, and they taught us so much. Our experiences with them served as the very first step in the long path toward realizing our own dreams of helping others. They taught us the value of education, and that the human spirit and generosity knows no bounds. Though we will never be able to say “thank you” in person, we join together in recognition of lives lived, lives loved, and lives continued.
From a Medical Student
One the first day of Orientation to medical school, the professor stands in front of the class and informs us that over the next four years, we will learn around 10,000 new words---10,000 words! I don’t remember much about the first weeks of medical school, but I do remember the fear in that moment. She then proceeds to tell us that many of theses words would, in fact, be learned within the mere 10 weeks of anatomy… that’s 2 ½ months for those of you who prefer mixed fractions. So like any good medical student, after anatomy was finished, I wanted to check that statistic. I went to the anatomy textbook, which we were always directed to and encouraged to look at to learn all of life’s questions. I looked in the index of Essential Clinical Anatomy and discovered that I have learned approximately 4,582 words . And the reason I know this is…I counted. I think it is called research. Four thousand five hundred and eighty-two words is also assuming I learned all about the pelvis, which of course I did, cough, cough. The point is that 4,582 words is very powerful because naming something is the first step in truly knowing/understanding something, which is further enhanced by seeing it. And thanks to the woman who donated her body and all the others who donated their bodies, I have not only learned 4,582 words, but I also now have a greater understanding of them.
Now there is a lot of things you can do with 4,582 words. 4,582 words have been learned for academic purposes. For instance, I have learned the names of the smallest muscle in the body, stapedius, to the longest in the body, sartorius. I have learned the names of several body parts that sound an awful lot like Harry Potter spells and hence have enhanced my Harry Potter acting skills. For instance, there is a particularly important muscle that is a part of a group that holds you bottom up. Imagine me confidently pronouncing, wand proudly raised above my head ready for wand-attack, “Levator Ani!” (which would be quite an interesting spell). Or I have learned from my 4,582 words to politely and creatively ask for someone to be quiet. For instance, if you desire to have some be silent, you might say, “Could your facial nerve control your Orbicularis Oris?” or “Maybe your vocal folds could be adducted for a small second?”
But I also learned some very unexpected things from the repertoire of new words. I learned that the most important words were not the words on the test, but words I had known for a long time but was re-discovering their vital importance. These words included a simple “thank you” to another classmate who helped me learn the cranial nerves. I learned the importance of the words of encouragement to motivate each other and help each other get through. I learned the power of saying “good job” to fellow classmates and recognizing each others’ gifts. All of these words were the words of empathetic doctors. And all of the people who donated helped us learn not only scientific words, but also these words of a true empathetic doctor.
What struck with me most, however, about learning 4,582 words, is that , I don’t know perhaps the most important word of all. I don’t know the word that gave me all the words. I don’t know the name of the woman who donated her body. And that is why we are here today to honor these individuals. And this not-knowing is beautiful, for the scenario only emphasizes how selflessly she gave of herself with only the simple recognition that we are giving her now, but the enormous impact she had on many lives. I think this giving-fully-with-simple-recognition is and ideal we would all be proud to emulate as doctors in the future, to give with little recognition. Not-knowing is also beautiful because the essence of a person is not in one formal word but is an ambiguous web of thousands of words. This woman was possibly the names mother, daughter, friend, confidant, love of someone’s life, dreamer, best storyteller, best storyteller though you have heard the story five times, you know, the important things. So I want to thank the names of those who gave us all the names. And I want to add 4,582 more words to the long list of meaningful words that already describe them throughout their lifetime because these 4,582 will never really be forgotten and neither will they.
From a Medical Student
In my last month of graduate school, one of my close medical school friends and mentors explained to me how he made his decision to pursue medicine. He said that many years ago he read an essay on Estranged Labor by Karl Marx, and it aroused in him a new motivation behind his life's goals. Marx described how when a man is detached from his creation, this estranged labor leads to an inevitable demise. For the man that works in an industrial assembly line, he is not truly concerned with the creation or outcome of the product. Rather, the man only seeks to meet his performance standards to continue his employment to sustain himself. Such a life is not what my friend envisioned for himself. He wanted his primary motivation to engage in labor to not be based on that which merely sustained his life, but instead was driven by fervid passion and joy for such labor.
On my first day of medical school, my colleagues and I were told that we were all carefully selected to join this profession. We had that character and mindset needed to become doctors. We all felt privileged and honored. We were ready to begin our training.
I remember walking into the anatomy lab for the first time.. It was a difficult experience for all of us, especially for those such as me who had never seen a deceased person before. As we peeled back the plastic wrapping and saw the donor bodies for the first time a silence swept over my table. We all froze, stared at the body, unsure how to proceed, what to say, or how to carry ourselves. Some of my colleagues were scared, concerned, and confused.
As for me, my initial reaction surprised me. I never told any of my colleagues about it because I was so ashamed of what I initially felt. I expected it to be sadness. I should be sad. The man lying before me is dead.
This man had a family, he had friends, and he had coworkers that missed him. He had people that cared for him and mourned over him.
But I did not know this man. I had no idea what to do. And this man was my first patient. But I felt so detached. I felt nothing. It was in that moment I came to a horrifying realization: I betrayed my first patient.
I recalled my friend’s final parting thought. He explained that Marx cautioned that estranged labor will lead to dehumanization of man, causing isolation from himself, his species, and his environment.
Was I experiencing the effects of estranged labor? Was I not the right person for this field? Where was my humanity? Was I engaging in something I was not passionate about? Was I becoming less human? Was the only one of my 270 colleagues feeling this way?
Then one of my lab colleagues read to us our donor’s patient history. As she told the story of how he passed, I felt a wave of emotions wash over me. Pain. Suffering. Death. This body felt it. He felt every bit of it. I now started to ask myself, who was this man? What were his passions? What made him smile? The most random questions came to my mind, and they were unanswered. I wanted to know this man. Because I cared about him. I cared about him. Now I was sad.
We thank the donors for their gift to medicine. Despite their passing, the donors imparted to us a legacy of healing which now lives in our own bodies as we heal future generations. We will never forget the lessons they taught us in understanding the complexity and beauty of the human body. But more importantly, they reminded us what it means to be human. In those first few moments we met out donors, we learned the most basic principle and foundation of medicine: that we must genuinely care and exhibit compassion for people, both in life and death.
Months after this experience, I am pleased to see that neither I nor my classmates have succumbed to the ill fate of the estranged assembly line worker. As I watch my peers interact with patients in clinics, or discuss medicine, I can feel a unified sense of compassion and concern towards their patients. There is a genuine enthusiasm and interest towards the well-being of humanity. They are proud to be here, and ready to take on the inherit duties and responsibilities that are called upon them. They are excited and ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.
To the families, we would like to thank you. Our class is grateful that you supported your beloved family members and friends when they made their decision to donate their body to medicine. We want to express to you that their selfless act has been a turning stone in our lives. To some of you, these donors were your father, mother, brother, sister, close relative or friend. These were people you drank tea with or played basketball with in the spring. These were people you loved and cried over when they were gone.
To us, these donors were our first patients. And in a sense, they were our first teachers. My colleagues and I are here at Ohio State to become doctors. But it is your beloved family members and friends, our first patients, which are inspiring us to become compassionate doctors. Thank you.