Breaking News
February 22, 2019 - AbbVie Announces New Drug Application Accepted for Priority Review by FDA for Upadacitinib for Treatment of Moderate to Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis
February 22, 2019 - Nature versus nurture and addiction
February 22, 2019 - New website connects researchers with data experts, resources | News Center
February 22, 2019 - Today’s Concerns About Drug Prices Echo The Past
February 22, 2019 - CT and Doppler equipment have low accuracy in detecting cerebral vasospasm and ischemia
February 22, 2019 - Study finds out similarity in function between healthy retina cell and tumor cell
February 22, 2019 - CWRU awarded NIH grant to identify effective treatments for intimate partner violence
February 22, 2019 - Oncotype DX Not Cost-Effective for Low-Risk Breast Cancer
February 22, 2019 - Scientists discover new type of immune cells that are essential for forming heart valves
February 22, 2019 - Talk About Déjà Vu: Senators Set To Re-Enact Drug Price Hearing Of 60 Years Ago
February 22, 2019 - Genetic defect linked to pediatric liver disease identified
February 22, 2019 - New cellular atlas could provide a deeper insight into blinding diseases
February 22, 2019 - Growing number of cancer survivors, fewer providers point to challenge in meeting care needs
February 22, 2019 - Innovative compound offers a new therapeutic approach to treat multiple sclerosis
February 22, 2019 - $1.5 million grant to develop opioid treatment program for jail detainees
February 22, 2019 - FDA’s new proposed rule would update regulatory requirements for sunscreen products in the U.S
February 22, 2019 - Most Hip, Knee Replacements Last Decades, Study Finds
February 22, 2019 - Wellness problems prevalent among ob-gyn residents
February 22, 2019 - In the Spotlight: “The world is your oyster in geriatrics”
February 22, 2019 - Successful testing of multi-organ “human-on-a-chip” could replace animals as test subjects
February 22, 2019 - Analysis of cervical precancer shows decline in two strains of HPV
February 22, 2019 - Sugary stent eases suturing of blood vessels
February 22, 2019 - From surgery to psychiatry: A medical student reevaluates his motivations
February 22, 2019 - Is New App From Feds Your Answer To Navigating Medicare Coverage? Yes And No
February 22, 2019 - New pacemakers powered by heartbeats could reduce need for surgery
February 22, 2019 - The United States records highest drug overdose death rates
February 22, 2019 - Phase 1 data reinforce safety profile of new drug for treating Duchenne muscular dystrophy
February 22, 2019 - Vitamin D supplementation less effective in the presence of obesity, shows study
February 22, 2019 - CPRIT awards nearly $20 million to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
February 22, 2019 - Sarepta Announces FDA Acceptance of Golodirsen (SRP-4053) New Drug Application for Patients with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Amenable to Skipping Exon 53
February 22, 2019 - An institutional effort to reduce the amount of opioids prescribed following lumbar surgery
February 22, 2019 - Family-history-based models perform better than non-family-history based models
February 22, 2019 - Failure to take statins leads to higher mortality rates | News Center
February 22, 2019 - New study explains why some patients report phantom sensations after limb amputation
February 22, 2019 - First motor-controlled heart valves implanted by Mainz University Medical Center
February 22, 2019 - Novel preclinical model mimics persistent interneuron loss seen in preterm infants
February 22, 2019 - Global health burden of glaucoma has increased, study reveals
February 22, 2019 - A holistic approach key to minimize treatment complexity in patients with interstitial lung disease
February 22, 2019 - 1 in 10 middle-aged Chinese adults are at high risk for heart disease, finds study
February 22, 2019 - More than half a million breast cancer patient’s lives saved by improvements in treatment
February 22, 2019 - Study finds no evidence that tougher policies prevent teenage cannabis use
February 22, 2019 - New blood test detects genetic disorders in fetuses
February 22, 2019 - Lower Self-Perception Observed in Children With Amblyopia
February 22, 2019 - Up to 15 percent of children have sleep apnea, yet 90 percent go undiagnosed
February 22, 2019 - Rare pulmonary defect prompts parents’ nationwide search for answers | News Center
February 22, 2019 - Lesbian and bisexual women at greater risk of being overweight, study finds
February 22, 2019 - UQ research may explain why vitamin D is essential for brain health
February 22, 2019 - Heart Attacks Rising Among Younger Women
February 22, 2019 - How your smartphone is affecting your relationship
February 22, 2019 - Orthopaedic surgeon receives prestigious award, $10 million grant | News Center
February 22, 2019 - New sepsis test could save thousands of lives
February 22, 2019 - Cervical cancer could be eradicated by 2100
February 21, 2019 - Sustained smoking cessation can lower risk of seropositive RA
February 21, 2019 - Thousands with chronic UTIs are not receiving the treatment they need
February 21, 2019 - Are teens getting high on social media? The surprising study seeking the pot-Instagram link
February 21, 2019 - Stanford expands biobank services | News Center
February 21, 2019 - Scientists identify link between drinking contexts and early onset intoxication among adolescents
February 21, 2019 - Strong social support may reduce cardiovascular disease risk in postmenopausal women
February 21, 2019 - Rapid expansion of interventions could prevent up to 13 million cases of cervical cancer within 50 years
February 21, 2019 - Motif Bio Receives Complete Response Letter From The FDA
February 21, 2019 - Researchers map previously unknown disease in children
February 21, 2019 - A skeptical look at popular diets: Going gluten-free
February 21, 2019 - Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ How Safe Are Your Supplements?
February 21, 2019 - Factors associated with increased risk of developing surgical site infections
February 21, 2019 - Anticipatory signals in eye movements can help measure attentive capacity, learning with greater precision
February 21, 2019 - Study explores daily exposure to indoor air pollutants
February 21, 2019 - Evening exercise does not negatively affect sleep, may also reduce hunger
February 21, 2019 - Artificial intelligence technique can be used to identify alcohol misuse in trauma setting
February 21, 2019 - Overweight, obesity in adolescence associated with increased risk of renal cancer later in life
February 21, 2019 - BGU develops new AI platform for monitoring and predicting ALS progression
February 21, 2019 - Researchers discover a new promising target to improve HIV vaccines
February 21, 2019 - Brief Anesthesia in Infancy Does Not Mar Neurodevelopment
February 21, 2019 - Gaming system helps with autism diagnosis
February 21, 2019 - Heart Disease: Six Things Women Should Know
February 21, 2019 - More States Say Doctors Must Offer Overdose Reversal Drug Along With Opioids
February 21, 2019 - Researchers explore case studies focused on industries that kill more people than employed
February 21, 2019 - Only half of GP practice buildings are fit for purpose
February 21, 2019 - Intense exercise, fasting and hormones can enhance waste-protein removal, study shows
February 21, 2019 - Scientists can monitor brain activity to predict epileptic seizures few minutes in advance
February 21, 2019 - Study quantifies hepatic and intestinal mRNA expression of Ugt isoforms in rats
Learning from those who are no longer living

Learning from those who are no longer living

image_pdfDownload PDFimage_print

“Death comes for all of us. It is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms. Dealing with the fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live.”
-Paul Kalanithi, MD, When Breath Becomes Air

This week, first-year students of the medical and physician’s assistant classes completed their seventh and final practical exam in clinical anatomy. Through fifteen weeks, 117 students learned the structures of the human body organized by region, working from the chest to the toes and finishing with structures in the head and neck.

As the late Stanford physician Paul Kalanithi aptly noted in When Breath Becomes Air, death is “unsettling.” In the first lab section, hushed nervous giggles disclosed discomfort as blue-scrubbed students searched the room for their own smiling photographs. Six students were assigned to each table, and each table was assigned to one cadaver.

Professors and teaching assistants floated around the room encouraging students. One professor paused by our table to reflect, “In a way, you’re cutting apart her body in order to put back together her story.” His words bestowed purpose on the dissection, which otherwise felt somewhat violating.

Our professor told a story about a wedding he attended with five people from his first-year anatomy lab. I looked around the room and took in the faces of people I might entrust with my life. My patient’s life. My mother’s life. The students at each table would be each other’s team, and the assignment was intimate. Over the coming weeks, friendships would forge, but the first day required basics only: gloves, scrubs, and closed-toed shoes.

Before starting to dissect, we shared a long, silent moment of thanks to the donors who willed their bodies for our program. Over the course of these moments, the nervous energy in the room transformed into reverent composure. A crescendo of zippers broke the silence as each table prepared to greet their cadaver for the first time.

Ironically, our first assigned patient encounter as medical students would be a corpse. For some of us, our donor would also be our first encounter with death. Each week we spent hours with our patient, a non-living, non-breathing, and non-metabolizing body of a person who once was. After finishing our final run through the lab cleaning checklist, my tablemates and I offered another moment of silence to say goodbye to our donor.

In some ways this course punctuates my adulthood. I can’t go back to when I was a kid and I joked about “guts” and “skeletons” around Halloween. I can’t go back to thinking my lungs are like sparkly birthday balloons inflating and deflating in my chest. I can’t go back to believing that “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”

The loss of my fantasies about the body is not to say that the body has lost any of its wonder. I simply passed the threshold of an open door, and I can’t go back to a place of not knowing. I have new insight and perspective. I learned in this course that people continue telling stories, even when they’re no longer living.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.

Lauren Joseph, LoJo, is a first-year medical student from Arcadia, California. She graduated from Stanford in 2017 and spent one year working in San Francisco before starting medical school. She is thrilled to be back at Stanford. She loves cooking, reading, running, and laughing with friends and family. 

Photo by webandi

Tagged with:

About author

Related Articles