by Emily Harding
Class of 2010
October 13, 2006
Everything inside of her is so carefully and surely constructed -- muscle, sinew, bone, and nerve -- the product of more than half a century of shaping, of permutations of the original blueprint that has been evolving for millions of years from the smallest of cells into an incredibly complex, nearly impossible to comprehend form that lays on the table in front of me every day – offering herself to me as my teacher, my first patient. I'm bewildered and humbled at the idea of studying so intimately that and whom of which I have such little knowledge, at being the recipient of so great a gift.
Everything inside of me is so tenuously constructed -- the muscles are sound, but my nerve is weak and unsure -- the product of only a few decades of shaping, of permutations of the countless faults and blunders of many a human that dates back to the beginning of time. Again I am bewildered and humbled by the responsibility laid before me on this, my first day of medical school, and remain unsure of dismantling that which I think I know best – my self, over the next four years. Yet my job is to take myself apart, piece by piece. To study the good and the bad, to save the good parts. To mend the broken ones and fill in holes when needed. To add new pieces that prevent future reaks. To build it back, securely, and with greater structural integrity than before -- with the hope of someday better understanding the beauty of the whole which will present itself to me every day as a physician.
And it is in this state of confusion and wonder that I begin my first day of work. I consider the form on the table in front of me, not just as a body, but as the house of a spirit, who I imagine is watching me from above as I explore each tunnel and secret passageway – reminding me to mind her neatly manicured fingernails. It makes me smile. Together we pass through the lessons taught in lecture each week. Often I am frustrated with my study of this body – and I think about how she must have had days when she was frustrated with her body too. Mostly though I think about her decision to entrust her body to me, and how uncanny a person she must have been to have had such a great sense of self, of the true meaning of generosity, and the love she must have held for fellow humans that she could give so freely to someone she’d never meet.
You might say then, that in addition to the many lessons anatomical I’ve gathered during these first months of my medical career, I’ve also had an important study in a subtle meaning of the word “love”. Emily Dickinson once wrote that “love is anterior to life, posterior to death, initial of creation, and the exponent of breath” – that it is timeless and omnipresent – it is in love that we are created, with love that we live, with every breath we take, and the legacy of love is what carries on long after we die. This could not be any better exemplified by the gift given by each of the donors – their great love for the world, for people known and unknown to them, and for those who will come after them is, I’m sure, what enabled them to give so selflessly of themselves, to me, a humble, unsure, and inexperienced medical student, so that I might carry on their legacy of love when I move forward to begin healing others. It’s a heavy charge, but something I eagerly anticipate carrying with me on my journey – and it’s something that, despite having learned it without ever sharing words with my teacher, I will never forget.