First Patient

This poem was written by a medical school student in honor of the donor who provided her with much in her Human Gross Anatomy class.   It is a beautiful tribute to a supporter who often is recognized but unthanked.  These donors, as well as other mentors, provide much for students on their educational and lifelong journeys.  Through generosity of time, advising, interacting, encouraging, and supporting, mentors help to develop who we were into who we will become. 

This poem is written in voices, both of the donor and the student.  The voices in the poem alternate and occasionally speak together.  While it can be difficult to read, this poem is infused with real emotion and embodies an usual relationship. 

Learning Anatomy

(The Student)…………………………………………………….(The Body)
Between you and me
my fears and my hopes

Between you and me

my heart in your hands

 

I am young

I am old

I am living                                                                                              I have lived

The distance is wide

 Between you and me.

How does one person

come to understand

another?

 

You have touched every scar,

traced the stories they tell

on my body, but my spirit

you have not read

A jumble of words…………………………………..I have become

a specimen, a chore………………………………a jumble of words

an interesting case………………………………….a body, a case

 A jumble of words

A mumbling of rituals

 pacemaker……………………………………………….heart failure

mastectomy……………………………………………hysterectomy

hysterectomy……………………………………………..metastasis

metastasis………………………………………………nephrectomy

nephrectomy……………………………………………..pacemaker

heart failure……………………………………………..mastectomy

 My hands have trembled

holding the silence of your heart

 These hands

 They have wiped

the tears I have wept

Want to heal so many hurts

 Come together in prayer

 These hands

 They have clasped a dear one close

 Been a part of good laughter

 Been a part of much hurt

yet made wonderful things

 

Like music, and bread 

They have cleansed and rebuilt

Made the ordinary extraordinary

I have nourished and created

 I have suffered

 I have hoped

 How little we understand

 How little you have probed

 How wide is the distance

between you and me?

 Only as wide

as your gentleness 

I have never been as open as you

 This is the most intimate time of my life

My death

 To whom can I tell my stories?…………….To whom will you tell my stories?

 Your gaze is sharp

 Sharper than a surgeon’s blade

my imaginings about your life

 Have you ever nursed a child?

 Have you ever loved another?

 Have you known loneliness and joy?

 Have I really looked inside?…….Have you really looked inside me?

When you dance in a roomful of happy friends

 Watch the first snow fall

 Hold an infant

 Kiss an elder

 Think of me.

Has anyone given you such a gift? 

Have I ever given a gift such as this?

 I will not forget…………………………………………Do not forget

 This intimacy

 This fractured life

full of possibility

 You are so full of wonder

 I wonder sometimes

 Sometimes you laugh

when you’d rather weep

the folly of youth

 I long to be healed

 We are “wounded surgeons,” all;

with bleeding hands we ply our arts

and try to tie the frazzled ends

 

Of mysteries and fragile lives.

 We huddle close

 You stretch far across

and now

your gaze is sharper

you see

 

Despite my wounds

Despite my many wounds

and the worlds I have lost 

Despite all we have taken

away from you

we are yet not so powerful,

not so wise

 I am still a woman

I am still one to be reckoned with

We think we have power

You think you know me

 But you know the truth

We

are more helpless

and vulnerable

than you

Despite all we have taken

 

You could not take my soul

You have given so much

You have crossed the valley

of a shadow we don’t know

 

But I fear no evil

for it is you there beside me

Though the distance is wide

 

Between you and me

a heaven, an eternity

 You will stay with me always

 I will remember ……………………………….You will remember

to speak softly

to touch gently

to walk in kindness

 Never forget

 You are precious, beyond price

 Comfort me, then

for my dreams lie with you

my heart in your hands

 My self in your hands

between you and me

 The distance is wide

 But we have held hands across it.

 

This poem illustrates the connection one may feel with an anatomical donor.  This person has given their entire self in order to educate the youth.  What more can you give.  The amount of time, energy, and effort a gross anatomist invests in learning the complexities of the human body is intense.  Naturally, one would feel connected emotionally or psychologically to this atypical teacher.  At one point the donor voice mentions the separation of his/her soul from their body, while the donor has given her physical body her soul has moved from this world to another.  Just as Margaret Edson’s E.M. Ashford proclaimed in her dialogue with Vivian, death is but a breath that separates life from life everlasting.  Regardless of the differing views of afterlife, through anatomical donation one is able to become part of the educational process and is infused into the web of what is a physician’s medical knowledge.  This first patient teaches the physician what it is to heal. 

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About vflynn

I am a Senior at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri aspiring to be a physician. Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, I came to Missouri to experience another region of the U.S. and in the past three years have gained strong ties to the community. In this blog, I will focus on reflections of medical visions in literature and contribute insights into contemporary issues and thought.
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One Response to First Patient

  1. Maureen Tuthill says:

    That’s fascinating. The emotions, thoughts and spirits of the two speakers meld together so that you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. I am struck by the line: “This is the most initmate time of my life / My death.” I expect that will be true for all of us, if we pay attention. Thank you for finding this poem.

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