Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cadaver Memorial Service

Art by Perlita Perez (MS 1)

"To live in this world

you must be able
To do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
And when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go."
Dear Cadaver #9,
It's hard to believe that your remains will soon be cremated and scattered over the ocean.
Thank you for donating your body to medicine and for allowing me the opportunity to learn the intricacies of the human body in an unforgettable and highly effective manner. To be honest, even though I have only known you for a year...and our interactions were mostly limited to a tightly controlled setting with five other students at the table...and even though your conversational skills were somewhat non-existent...I feel like you have been a strange sort of friend. Familiarity is a funny thing, and now I think about those dozens of hours spent poring over your organs and vasculature as if it were the Book of Life, and maybe that is not so far from the truth. Strange to think that you have single-handedly shown me that Man is a World Unto Himself, and that your gift has changed my life and hopefully the lives of many others.
Can I call you a friend? Because you have helped me, given selflessly, and never questioned or rebuked us even when we devised the "Resistance Method" to test whether certain white strings were nerves or fascia ("if it breaks when you tug it, it was fascia"). Even though you were a strange green color and had a really interesting liver, you smelled familiar and the other cadavers just didn't smell the same. We touched your heart, your lungs, your brain, looked into your face and handled every muscle in your leg. No other human will ever be so open and clear to us, so bravely exposed and for that we are grateful.
The memorial service held at UCSF last week for the cadavers was extremely touching. You would have liked it, I think. Two baskets of white flowers stood at the head of the aisle in our lecture hall, and the first year medical students read poems and written pieces. One of our classmates played a haunting waltz on the fiddle that made my insides ache. The anatomy faculty attended the service, and one of the faculty members read a poem from the New England Journal of Medicine and she cried throughout the recitation. She mentioned how every year, there are new cadavers all unopened and pristine, and a new class of medical students who are all strangers. As the year progresses, the bodies "come apart" and the class "comes together" as the process of dissection slowly instills knowledge into our inexperienced heads. You made all the difference.
Thank you.

E.E.. Cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings : and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touch hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the yes of my eyes are opened).

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