First year, first tropical hurricane, first patient

Well, since the last time I wrote here I’ve had some adventure:  I moved to another state (with an amazing night passed in NOLA en route), I evacuated for a rather anti-climactic hurricane (at least for us fortunate ones in South Florida), had my fair share of anxiety regarding this sprinkling of recurrent exams in my first semester of med school, and moved to a different abode two weeks before finals.  After that point, I enjoyed 3 full weeks off – my first true break in 3 years.  It was glorious…Christmas Eve was my favorite part! (My main girl’s got it goin’ on)

…And then this semester started.  Full of its own stress-inducing antics, I’ll just say that I’m grateful for yet another quick Spring break (Wow!  I know, seriously, another break!).

One thing which came to an end during this last block of Neuro was our interaction with our first true patients.  I’m not ready for it to be over.  I want to go back, to keep exploring, to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that I gave him what he wanted.   To those who have not been through the experience of gross anatomy dissections, perhaps this may on the surface seem morbid or destructive – appalling, even.  But donating his body to science was specifically what he wanted.  He wanted us to learn.  He wanted us to suck as much knowledge out of him as we possibly could.  I’m also of the opinion that he wanted to get a good laugh when we discovered the rods in his back and the bridge in his mouth.  Did he get a kick out of knowing that those things would take us by surprise?

(The portion below inadvertently turned into a second-person interaction.)

Teach us, Sir, you did indeed.  And yet I’m still left with so many questions.  Who were you, really?  Your hands were so strong.  Your back likely carried its fair share of weight in your lifetime.  Your heart was an incredible thing to see.  I didn’t want to ruin it, so I just kept trying to carefully dissect out the surrounding vessels.

You taught me that there is no shame in aggressive exploration, given that it’s performed in a respectful manner.  When we first met, I was hesitant (typical, for me).  However, I wanted to get comfortable with this process, and the way that I did that was to spend the extra time in the very beginning fumbling with scalpel and forceps (if I even had the presence of mind to use forceps at the time), digging in when it felt most uncomfortable and unnatural.  Then something happened – maybe we “bonded”?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that what you wanted for us became the primary motivating factor for my week.  I yearned for the tangibility of discovery.  Too many other facts about genetics, microbiology, immunology, and pharmacology were inundating my mind – yet in the tangibility of your flexor hallucis longus I found solace (yes, it’s ok to laugh at that – good ole Tom, Dick and Harry).

You taught me a little bit more about how to deal with death – or rather, how I evade dealing with death.  You taught me that there’s not much difference between the two of us, because whenever I breathe my last breath I will be in the exact same state in which I first met you.  Death:  the great equalizer.  I’m not ready for it, but I assume you were…weren’t you?  If you were, how did you prepare?  How did you get to the point where you were OK with it?  How do I get to the point where I’m finally at peace with all that I’ve done with my life, ready to let go?  Maybe you fought it at first.  Maybe you’re a fighter, like me.  Maybe you struggled with it to the point of exhaustion.  Maybe once you exhausted yourself in that wrestling match the peace overcame you…?  I wish I could understand.

Thank you for your generosity.  I wish I had just a little more time for some lessons from you, to allow that kind of discovery to continue.

—————————————————-

We had a meeting in preparation for a ceremony that we are going to hold in honor of our donors.  When we began to talk about how to handle the possible spectrum of emotions from family members, suddenly my memories took me to a place I had not revisited in quite some time.  How should we comfort those family members?

The image burning in my mind during this brief discussion was when Amanda was preparing for her wedding, which turned out to be a month before what everyone in the room knew was inevitable.  Her hair had grown back in a pattern of soft curls which was a change from her previously wavy but relatively straight beautiful hair.  She wrapped her arms around my neck for one of the last times, unloading a burden which perhaps she did not wish to express to her own soon-to-be-heartbroken mother.  “I’m so scared.”

I had no words.  She was so young.  The rest of that month and into the next consisted of the nauseating tension, the dread, of the next phone call which I would receive from her mother.  “Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace…”

I don’t feel like continuing the rest of those thoughts.   But I think I am a bit apprehensive about the reopening of the wound, once I’m surrounded by grieving family members.  I need to be strong for them and don’t wish to lose face.  I’m grateful for what our donor offered to us, and I can confidently say that I took full advantage of what he wanted us to receive from it.  His generosity makes it possible for me to move forward as I learn to interact with many more patients and hopefully, learn how to offer even better care than was available to him throughout most of his time.

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