saying goodbye

I wrote this piece this weekend and recited it for the cadaver memorial service my class had this morning after our last gross anatomy lab.

Now that everything is said and done, I feel like we never got the time to reflect on what we were doing.   We treated each day in lab like a to do list—remove subcutaneous tissue, learn the structures hiding beneath.

But I’ll be honest; as our days on the tenth floor dwindled, my thoughts began to transcend bolded terms and the broad expanse of body they defined.

I think about the day when we made the first cuts on those undisturbed bodies, months ago. It’s funny.  At this point, we’ve dissected so much that we can’t recognize any of you, but you’re more of individuals to me now than you were when we started.  I’ve caught myself wondering what kind of lives you led before you wound up here.  We kept glancing at the list on the far wall, reminding ourselves of how you died, but no piece of paper in this place can tell us how you lived.  Maybe you fought in wars.  Perhaps you saw grandchildren grow up, gave generous presents on Christmas, at birthdays.  Maybe back in the day you took jobs bagging groceries, babysitting, or cutting lawns for old ladies—children with empty pockets and full heads of dreams.  But I can only speculate.  I only saw your physical history when we took off the calvaria and scrutinized the holes that line the skull.  I couldn’t find any of your memories in there.

We did try to give you names to replace the impersonal four digits scrawled on your arms and legs.  Number 6290, my group couldn’t decide what to call you.  We were somewhere between Harold, Hank, and maybe something else.  Nothing stuck.  Nothing felt right.  Sorry about that.

Whatever your names or occupations in life, I have to commend your talent as teachers.  You enlightened us, showed us so much, without uttering a single word.  That’s something even our professors can’t do.

All in all, as happy as I am to leave this cold laboratory and its awkward smells, as much as I’ve been looking forward to being done with the stiff scrubs and the latex gloves, I guess there is something that I’ll miss about this place.  I learned many lessons here.

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