- Disabilities & the Disabled
A Question of Respect - Part IV
The Anatomy of Sensitivity
The Medical Students had not, yet, been assigned their gross anatomy bodies. Dr. Winsley had contacted each student, individually, informing them to proceed with their character development assignment and, those students who wished to know how to learn the identity of their subject; were to utilize the main, digital records link through the University web site. There, they would find a list of bodies which were donated under their actual names. He further informed his students that some of the subjects had extensive histories and that arrangements could be made to acquire such a subject.
John Spencer was glad to get this news. He would consult the records department the following day. He thought about the labels used in lab and at other steps along the way in his Medical studies. One thing he was certain of; he strongly disliked some of the terms which were commonplace in the classroom environment as well as the laboratory. He hated the word, “cadaver.” He thought it far too clinical; way to impersonal. No, he would never use that term. He preferred, instead, to refer to the body he was about to ‘use’ as a person with a name; and a history.
John Spencer also suspected that, by familiarizing himself with his subject before and during anatomical instruction, he would develop a more humane and sensitive ‘bedside manner.’ He had considered, in addition to the personal story he hoped to learn, that it would be a great benefit to meet the family, also. He had heard that, recently, the emphasis had changed in medical institutions; away from stressing that students keep a “professional distance” while being respectful yet emotionally detached from the donors they studied. In the early history of medical school, there had been a blatant disregard, in fact, for the bodies; with students often expressing a disrespectful, even crude, handling. Later, in the mid 1960’s, this attitude had changed due to the “Mercedes” incident.
A student referred to her female donor body as “Mercedes.” When asked why she did so, she replied, “"Because, she's going to enable me to purchase a … Mercedes." There also were examples of total disregard which were expressed through even more obscene behaviors. One such incident involved students placing a donor upright in a chair, with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Others included a series of photographs of donor bodies being placed around a card table, as if gambling. These pictures were spread far and wide. Springing from these incidents, as well as the ‘Mercedes’ comment, was a new approach and attitude designed with the hope that students, from that point on, would be encouraged to relate with a more humanistic approach to the donors who had offered themselves for the advancement of Medical Science.
* * *
The Nursing Home staff had just begun evening rounds. These were performed every three hours, on the hour. During rounds, staff checked on the welfare of each resident; performed custodial duties, general clean up, “turning” of those residents who could not do so themselves, along with other tasks. Nurse Helene approached the small room on the window side of the long hallway. She always enjoyed short visits with the sweet old lady who lived in that small room. Grace Hawthorn. Lately, Helene found herself anxious as she neared the room. She knew that Grace Hawthorn’s days were numbered; there were signs that only one who observes her patients daily, would notice.
The door to Grace’s room was closed. The sun had set after a long, uneventfull, warm sunny day. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened; and Helene was grateful for this. Sometimes, there was just too much confusion when a particularly confused resident became combatant. Today, thankfully; nothing of the kind had occurred.
Nurse Helene pushed the door open.
“Grace….Grace,” she said just above a whisper. There was no reply. “Grace,” she spoke a little louder. Still, no response. Helene opened the door fully and entered. She stopped abruptly. Though she knew it; though she had expected it; she was still shocked and saddened at the sight before her. Grace was in her bed, on her side with her arms positioned as if holding something close. She had clutched a bundle of her quilt; the beautiful quilt she’d spoken of on so many occasions. Grace’s old, withered hands were cradling the clumped fabric as if it were a baby. On her aged face, Helene noticed, was the hint of a gentle, sweet smile.
Helene’s eyes filled with tears. She stood quietly by Grace’s bedside as she allowed herself to bask in so many memories of sitting near while Grace shared her stories of a full and colorful life. Helene waited a few moments before alerting the Retirement Home staff of Grace’s passing, and closure procedures were to begin.
They knew that Grace had signed the forms for donation….
End of Part VI