The bond between medical students and their cadavers

A letter from a medical student at the end of her gross anatomy course.

Dearest Walter,

The time we’ve spent together over the past few months has been wonderful, but I’m afraid it must come to an end.  We knew this day would come.  I must move on with my life, and you must move on, too.  We will never see each other again, but I will never forget you.  You have taught me so much, and I am eternally grateful.  I would never have made it through med school without you.

Many people do not understand the bond between medical students and their cadavers.  You are the one who taught me about the human body.  And whenever I think about the body, it will be yours that I see.  Your huge biceps, your leathered skin, your giant heart.  Your body still seemed so full of life, even though yours had already ended.  You still had so much to give, so many secrets yet to share, and you shared them with me.  You gave me your body – your complete self, and you didn’t even know me.  What a tremendous act of love.

I know things about you that you never even knew yourself, and yet I don’t even know your real name.  I don’t know where you lived or what you did.  I don’t know what your favorite color was.  I know so much about you, yet so little.

You were a hard worker.  Even after you were dead, you still had work to do.  I like to imagine that you were a farmer, and that’s why you had such impressive muscles.  I think maybe you were an arm-wresting champion.  It makes me laugh when I think about.  I know you were married.  I could see the indent left on your finger from a long lifetime wearing a ring.  I wonder if your wife is still alive.  I bet she misses you.  I hope she knows how much it means to me that she let me have you.  I hope you had kids, and maybe even a few grandkids.  I think you would have been a great grandpa.  I can picture you giving your grandchildren rides on your shoulders.  You had big shoulders.  I wonder if you ever saw the world.  Did you live here your whole life?  Was there anything left undone?  Did you have any regrets?  Why did you donate your body to me?  What would you say to me if you could?

Oh, Walter.  I hope you know how much I love you.  How grateful I am to you.  You are not forgotten.  You will live on.  Whenever I see a patient, you will be right there with me.  You will be in my mind, in my thoughts, and in my decisions.  Thousands of patients will benefit from my knowledge  - the knowledge I acquired from you.  You have been a teacher, a study partner, and a friend.

It feels like you are dying today.  Dying for real.  But you are not dying, are not dead, not really.  Goodbye, Walter.  Your work is done.  Rest in peace.

Emily Howard is a medical student who blogs at my first patient.

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