A Question of Respect - Part II
Forward to a date, later in time....
The young medical student cleared his throat and wiped his mouth as he entered the laboratory doors. Today would be the first day of ‘gross anatomy.’ Today, he would be seeing – and touching – for the first time, actual human remains; a real human body. He had read about it; he had studied diligently and had, he thought, thoroughly prepared himself for this moment. He took a deep breath, lifted his chest as his abdominal muscles tightened, and pushed through the swinging door into the confines of the sterile, stainless steel, deathly quiet room.
He looked around, doing a 360 of the antiseptic, large, brightly lit space. There were gleaming, flat rectangular tables with gutter like receptacles which ran the length of each table. Beneath the grated surface was another level; one which was built to collect fluids. Suspended overhead were lights with large shades designed to direct the beam onto the perfect metal slab, Various smaller tables with roller feet, stood near the larger ones, each equipped with numerous instruments of various purposes. He stood, silent, in the midst of the reality of his current position and what was to follow.
Soon, the instructor, a Medical Doctor, entered the room. He greeted the young student with a broad smile, friendly demeanor and an “I’m in control” attitude. The young student reached out to shake the hand which was outstretched to meet his. An automatic response. ‘What is the lore behind the handshake? The young student wondered; ‘I believe it was originally meant to show a possible foe that you held no weapon in your hidden hands. From a long time ago, I’m sure.’ He mused.
He shook the Doctor’s waiting hand and introduced himself.
“Hello Dr. Winsley,” he offered, “I’m John Spencer. It’s good to meet you.”
As he spoke the words, more students began to enter the laboratory. Most of the arrivals appeared to be around his age. John Spencer felt a bit of relief as these people entered. For some unexplainable reason, their numbers; their presence helped to diffuse the pressure he felt as he stood, alone, in the massive lab with nothing but stainless steel and the good Dr. Winsley.
Some of his cohorts looked concerned, others looked a little put off; still, others seemed to be trying to act as if they were not affected by the starkness and reality of why they had gathered there.
The custodial staff of the teaching Hospital had placed a number of plastic stacking chairs in one corner of the spacious interior. There was a murmur in the room, inaudible comments shared back and forth between some of the students who seemed to know one another. John knew none of his classmates so, he remained silent as he looked from one person to another.
He wondered about this. He had always been a loner; always preferred to spend time apart from others, thinking about philosophical questions, musing over possibilities in life and, in general, being content with his own company. His friends, even his family members, used to tease him about his preference for isolation. They’d try to draw him out; try to turn him into a “party animal.”
“Hey, John!” he often heard from his small apartment window on the second floor; “John! We’re all going to the corner bar! Come on, man! Have a little fun!”
He had friends, for sure. Some very good, close friends. But they, like himself, were reserved; quiet and contemplative. He was never comfortable carousing and acting loud and boisterous. No, he liked to spend the little time he had outside studies, reading fiction and biographies, walking along the nearby lake shore and “contemplating his navel.”
“Hahaha!” He laughed out loud at the thought. ‘Now, looks like I’m going to be contemplating someone else’s navel…’ he considered this a little more seriously. “Not funny,’ he mused to himself; ‘not funny at all!’
Dr. Winsley asked everyone to grab a chair from the stack and make themselves comfortable. After they were all seated, the room grew eerily quiet. Eyes wide, attention directed at Dr. Winsley, each student was, suddenly, very somber.
John found himself surprised and relieved by what was about to transpire. Rather than rushing into the exploration of an actual body, Dr. Winsley was taking a new and different route to instructing his students about anatomy. A rather unique approach, John realized, while he thought that it was an excellent idea and an honorable method with which to introduce impressionable and, sometimes, immature students, to the use of the human being in laboratory class.
“We are about to enter into the next phase of your Medical training,” Dr. Winsley began, “and I want to start by emphasizing the importance of deference and respect for the ‘teaching aid’ you are about to utilize. It is with utmost gravity that I instill in you how imperative it is that you handle yourself and your tools as if you were handling a living, breathing human being. Before we start our official presentation, I must insist that you regard seriously the fact that you will be learning on a once living human being who, probably, had an extensive history, loving family members, a satisfying career and who, very well may have contributed greatly to our society. I am going to give you an assignment which, I believe, will help you to view your subject with the highest esteem; as if you were spending your valuable time with a peer. To do any less than this will not be accepted in my class. I do not want to hear insulting references made towards the body before you.”
The words were like soothing music to John Spencer's ears. He had been raised to hold others, in the highest regard, no matter the state of physical or mental health he might encounter. And, for that matter, he, obviously, applied his respect for others who had passed this life. He had reservations about the probable attitudes he'd witness in his fellow cohorts; he worried that rude things might be said. For some inexplicable reason, this was extremely upsetting to John. Though he would never admit it; never give it any legitimacy; he was a gentle soul. He did not enjoy seeing others hurt.
Dr. Winsley's voice drew John out of his reverie...
"To help you achieve this level of deference and understanding, I am assigning one of two options. First, you can create a ‘story’ about your subject. Take into account the sex, age, ethnicity, physical condition and any other criteria which might help you create a personality, with a history that inspires you to see this person as a valuable member of the human race. Two, you may want to learn a little bit about the actual person who is on your table. Once, donors remained anonymous. Now, as we’ve progressed in the field on many levels; we have allowed some of our donors to be named. This is only done at the request of family members, as a way, I imagine, to lend importance to the contribution their deceased loved one has made through their gift to you. Some wish that their relative be given his or her due respect for this honorable last act on this earth.”
As he spoke, John thought that the Dr.’s talk was almost sermon like. He liked that Dr. Winsley stressed the value of those who lent their body to science. In fact, his admiration for the Doctor increased as the introduction continued.
They had reached the sixth tier of their learning pyramid. Now, after having sat through dozens of lectures, and reading tombs of anatomy texts, viewing visual teaching tools, witnessing demonstrations and participating in discussion groups about all of the former, they were about to proceed to the actual “doing” of all they’d absorbed. The time had come.
When Dr. Winsley was finished with the introduction, he urged the students to choose which option of the two he’d recommended, and begin the formation of their “character” study.
John decided to research the name of his donor, first; to see if, indeed, a name was available. He preferred getting to “know” the actual person rather than making up a story about him or her. His choice was made.
He stood up, shook hands with the Doctor a second time, and left the laboratory. As he passed through the doors he heard, what he imagined to be, the nervous tittering and laughter of his fellow students.
End of Part II
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Title :: A Question of Respect - Part II
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