Never Take Them for Granted

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Writing and Photography by Giuliana Guarna (c2019)

Anatomy is a cornerstone of medical education. As such, thousands of medical students have passed through anatomy labs over the past decades and centuries. During my second week of medical school, I had the privilege of stepping into the anatomy lab for the first time.

Saying that I was overwhelmed, would be an understatement. My mind was inundated with a million thoughts, ranging from the enormity of the human body, to the pressure to remember the minutiae of everything I saw. But, more than anything else, I felt the weight of the donors in my soul. I knew that weight could only be the pressure I felt to honour the specimens for the gift that they truly were.

The anxiety I felt over having to remember everything quickly evaporated – my peers and professors are gifted and kind. Any question or qualm that I have, they are ever quick to facilitate my learning. The thing that has not left me though, is the immense responsibility I feel when engaging with the anatomy lab. I know that it is my duty to honour the extraordinary gift made for the sake of my learning.

As I held the very first specimen, I was awash with humility. Who was I to be given the distinct privilege to hold a piece of someone in my hands? As I marvelled at the trachea in my hands, I was amazed by all the things that clicked into place in my head.

As the wheels started turning in my head, I was beginning to understand so much more than I thought imaginable. Then, all at once, I understood so little. While I could see how air made its way into and out of the body, I could never fully understand what made this person whole. Did this trachea once carry a laugh? Maybe it was the kind of laugh that leaves you gasping for air? Or the kind of laugh that you feel in the depths of your belly, because you laughed so hard it hurt. That was something no amount of time working in the anatomy lab could ever teach me. I’d never know their love, light, and kindness. I’d never know. 

It’s incredible to recognize that I am learning from the best teachers that the world could ever offer me. Teachers, who will never utter a single audible word, and yet who will speak immeasurable truth and wisdom into the fibres of my soul. As I move forward in my medical career, I will never forget the first time I bore witness to the best teachers life had to offer me, and I can only say thank you.

Thank you, for the final gift. Thank you for your kindness that has long outlived your last breath. Thank you, for touching the lives of thousands of people, simply because you have touched mine.

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