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A Question of Respect - Part IV

Updated on August 5, 2012

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


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    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Thank you kj force. The Mercedes incident and others described here are unimaginable to me...the disrespect (though, I know...merely a symptom of an inability to handle the initial introduction to dealing w/this very real aspect of Med. school and all that it must conjure in one's mind) is tough. Thank you, again. Kathy

    • kj force profile image


      5 years ago from Florida

      Lucky are so close to home with your reference to the disrespect that accompanies many a med student. However..there are many who do not hold to this behaviour, but, I do " relish " your mention of the " mercedes " rings true I must admit...kind of a tongue in cheek thought...the thoughts/feelings of the nurse, you captured have wet my appetite on this write..again wow !

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi PegCole. I hope to finish the story eventually..While the first 4 chapters came in a rapid avalange 'out of the blue;' I am at a standstill and writers' block right of these days; I'll surprise myself and finish the story. Thank you for the visit and kind comment.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      This was truly amazing and eye opening. I do hope there will be a Part V to this series. Your writing truly touches the heart.

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi there Lord De Cross.

      This one is the fourth in the story line one I hope to find enough imagination to continue soon. The story line came to me in an absolute rush one morning and I stopped everything and started writing. Now, I'm in a huge 'writers' block' and have not, yet, decided or figured out how to blend the story well...but I WILL!! (positive thinking!!)

      I, too, would find it very difficult to make life and death decisions...particularly in the world, such as it is; where an understanding of life greater than this one is not well accepted or understood...

      I sincerely appreciate your comment. LDC. Very valued. Thank you

    • Lord De Cross profile image

      Joseph De Cross 

      5 years ago from New York

      I would never be a good physician, and dealing with lives, that would depend on my final decision. Grace seems to have your spirit: giving, spontaneous, emphatic and with a heart. Amazing how you introduce us to the world beyond the emergency room. Keep us wanting for more of these series dear friend!

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      hi Hyph! You have such a wonderful outlook and attitude; which I admire. Thank you so much! We are on the same "wave length" that our bodies are no longer needed an we continue on a life of spirit. So appreciate your visits and comments. Kathy

      Hi dear Amy...I know what you mean. I no longer feel the 'fear' when considering death but, I DO fear who I'll be leaving greatest concern is that I've made sure that my loved ones are well provided for and that the quality of and love in their lives will not plummet once I'm gone. this is my huge worry..almost an obsession. I've put the 'energy' out the Universe...for the perfect, young and caring person to emerge; one whom I can trust love and care for my little furry family once I'm gone.

      When I lose a sweet companion, the sense of emptiness and loss is immeasurable...and, pretty much, renders me frozen; paralyzed in emotional grief....of course, this passes with time and the support I have from others who understand and share this. I worry; and my faith is shaken and my "strong" belief in the afterlife is questioned...I find that I am not as strong in the face of reality as I am in the philosophy of the idea of death.....then, the emotional tumult subsides and I, once again, can allow myself to be certain..particularly when I can see this FOR others..because, though I do feel empathy...still, the direct "hit" is not as I can see more clearly and am able to assure that, in deed, we will all meet again...funny how we (or I) do not allow this comfort for ourselves (myself)...but can easily allow it for those we care about.

      Oh, I'm getting carried away....t his will always be the eternal question until that time comes..always always. Amy, this is why so many care about you and hold you in highest regard...your are YOU and hiding behind pretense...and we all need more of this and need to be more so, ourselves. Love ya' my friend. Kathy

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Unlike so many people, who have come to terms with the inevitability of death, I fear it. At night, when it's quiet, my thoughts occasionally wander there, but not for long. For me, the fear of the unknown scares me away. The fact that there is no way out does not bring acceptance for me, but increases my foreboding. I'm boring you with all this, Kathy, to let you know that I appreciate your gentleness and great sensitivity in handling a subject I was almost afraid to open by reading your story. Knowing you, and only for that reason, inspired my trust and drew me in. I am so much richer for the experience.

      Having only recently lost my beloved pet, MacGregor, I am very moved by a shared belief that, if there is a heaven, it would have to include all living beings. I find it extraordinarily fitting, touching and important that this is part of your story. Thank you, my lovely friend.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Grace knew that physical death is only a new beginning of life in the spirit. Our bodies are discarded and no longer important. However they should be treated with respect and honor for the great job they performed for us. The human heart is capable of incredible crudity. But I believe love always triumphs. Thank you for this lovely and unique story.

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      My dear are far too kind...but, I'll take it!! LOLO...thank you so much for being so supportive and "the wind beneath my wings" for so many years filled with friendship, love, support, happiness, sorrow and so much more. See ya real soon..I love you!! Kathy

      Dear Augustine, How kind and caring is it that you think of your GrandKids after having read this? What an unselfish thought...I often wonder about the very young and what might they have to deal with / face in years to come. It will be a vastly different world, I believe. I hope it is a 'gentler, kinder' planet. I don't think I fear death but, when I've thought something might be terribly wrong, healthwise; the fear level increased and I began to wonder, "just how would I deal w/the news of a fatal diagnosis?"

      The 'Mercedes' incident was unknown to me until I decided to (finally!) do a little research for this story line; as was the fact that emphasizing a more humanistic approach to the curriculum is now, almost, commonplace. This was to be the main point of Grace's; I'll re direct the main point of her note...have to put my "thinking cap" on. thank you for the kind, as well as honest, comment.

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Oh, Teylina; thank you so much...these characters are purely fictional and, yet, I've grown to care about them, too. I cried at Grace's passing...even though I knew what was coming long before I wrote the first word..geesgh! Thank you my dear Teylina!

      Ruby, dear friend....your words are so what I want to hear...that the characters do touch my friends who read this story; and that you want to know what happens to them...thank you so so much. This is so important to me and the fact that you relate to this, considering your beautiful writing, makes me very happy. I am so honored. kathy

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi my dear friend Amy! I am with you on all counts. My father and mother were both cremated; at this point, I believe this is what I want, as well. The level of lack of regard; disrespect and neglect for seniors/elders is astounding...even to this day; there is an attitude which is all too familiar. I have been thinking about this; I think people (we) are afraid and ignorant about death (I do not exclude myself from this....sometimes) and we 'disarm' these feelings of fear and doubt with cynicism, sarcasm and rejection. We reject the truth that, at present, the only thing saving us is "there but for fortune." Those who disrespect elders are, not yet, old. Not, yet, disabled or handicapped or, just plain getting on in years. Our only reality is one of time; and our time is coming.

      I so agree with hour feeling about the Medical Profession as depicted by "Gray's Anatomy," "House," etc... having talked w/my brother at length about the ER environment, and hospitalization, in general, mirrors the way in which the medical / hospital enviroment is portrayed. Again, I think that, in particular, ER staff must develop a somewhat calloused outer shell as they see so much. My brother has told me so many stories.. the elderly situation is, but, another expression of the same thing...though, it is imperative that this is tempered w/facing facts and reality afterall, this is a chosen profession. One should be prepared for it.

      I've learned a bit since embarking on this story; the idea of ethics and a humanitarian approach to the use of donor bodies / their treatment IS a part of modern medical training. It goes so far as to include family members, writing letters, poems, stories, character development, and after using the bodie; buriel(s) w/family members, socializing w/family and saying prayers, etc. This is quite encouraging. I imagine, of course, that the old attitudes still remain on some levels; just because of the difficulty of emerging Doctors to be, having to learn how to deal with the mere fact of life/death before them. It's all been quite illuminating.

      Still, the long term care issue remains; though, in all honesty; I haven't dealt w/that industry for a while.

      I am so glad that the description of Grace holding the kitten/quilt gave the impression I had hoped it would. thank you for letting me know that it, indeed, did.

      I am always in awe and deep respect/appreciation for your visits and incredible comments, give your all in considering the work you've read, and your words are highly regarded by writers, specially me! Love ya' my dear friend. We're on the same page about this. Kathy

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      5 years ago from Texas

      A beautiful series is unfolding.

      I appreciate the dignity Grace has, and hope I can be the same when I pass. I don't fear death, as it takes us into our final peaceful domain. I hope and pray for peace for my grandskids when I pass. Other than that, it's another phase in our journey of existence.

      I heard of the Mercedes incident while in health psychology class, glad to see your main character working to rectify the wrongs of the past. Thank you for sharing.

    • Lucky Cats profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi billybuc. I wish I could answer your question but I have never had that large a number of "views" to know the difference....not like your beautiful work and so many others here. Mine has been "trickle down" from those whose comments you see here....Also..I am not on any of the earning programs so I haven't followed in that respect. As far as I know; this series is garnering pretty much the same as any of the individual hubs I've written...but I could be wrong..."I may be wrong but, then I may be right...." (B. Joel skewed quote).

      Thank you so much for your continued support and wonderfully wise ways!

      Dear Nellieanna..your comments are so real and so honest/personal...and I am right there with you. I have been learning as I write this. I had an idea but, in my limited "research" have found that my idea has already been given 'life,' so I am in the midst of redirecting what was to be the main emphasis of this story line. So, the old recommendation stands: "do your research, first...then write!" (or something like that)...Though my older brother is a Medical Doctor w/two specialties; I have chosen not to use him as a resource as, I'd never complete the story..I'd be so wrapped up in the exact details...YIKES! thank you so very much for your kind and caring comments.

      hi Josh...well, you are certainly turning our to be a wonderful HP treasure! I value your imput so very much...and am so happy that you relate to this story...for you and Nellieanna...YES....John is to be 'acquainted' w/the elegant lady and he will exact significant changes in his field. thank you so much for continuing to follow.

      aviannovice, thank you so much for being a source of joy and wonder here in HP's with your beautiful series on our feathered friends, and I so appreciate your succinct comments...thank you and I am hoping to write a hub, soon, about my wildlife rescue clinic work. Your friend, Kathy

      My dearest friend, Martie...your comment is a poetic truth that resonates with the deepest part of my psyche and my desire for such a truth...your insight and empathy is a continual source of solace (because your beliefs underscore my fervent hopes) as well as the basis for a fantastic friendship. I am so happy that you like this little mental is a 'trial and error' episodic fictional fantasy. Your friend, Kathy

      dear Dear Mar...I found out about the Mercedes incident while exploring areas about this story about which I had no ideas at all...a novice! Yes, as I read the stories about that and other instances of complete disregard for donor bodies; I felt and feel so saddened...this is not something we should "learn" to respect, to treat with kidd gloves; is something that should be natural and care for and feel for seniors, elders, and donors. Part of our treatment, i believe, is because we are faced with our own potential futures and we, in a cavalier manner, try to disarm that reality by making light of disdaining it. As a nurse, I am certain you've seen some pretty awful things; as well as some awfully beautiful instances of human emotions.....

      I wrote Helene's name as Helen...and continued for several paragraphs and, then, mistyped and left it as such...when I re read...I changed the initial Helens to IS the same,, still significant :D Thank you, my dear friend, for your wonderful words. Kathy

    • profile image

      We save cats 

      5 years ago

      Darn Kathy you obviously have lived a full life yourself, to be having all this knowledge and passion flowing out of you so beautifully. Some one said once, that to succeed as a writer, one must write something every day, and live a full life so as to have something to write about. You are right there, Kiddo. Thank you.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Dear Kathy, The thought of Grace holding her quilt, thinking it was her kitten brought a flood again. This is such a beautiful story told so sweetly. I like Amy, am hooked and will be waiting patiently for your return to this intriguing story..Thank you..Hugs*******

    • Teylina profile image


      5 years ago

      Loving every word, my friend. I'm trying to "second-guess" you, but since I know that can't be done, I'm simply with whomever I'm drawn in this series. I can't imagine you are anywhere near the end, and your characters are becoming family. Awesomely written, Kathy. Whoever said applause was in order is oh, so right!

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 

      5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      At first, Kathy, well, even now, the ending of this part of your story series leaves me crying. I understand, though the Grace was ready and in the previous part of the story, I knew she had passed and was happy in the present of her loved ones, including her pet. You tied into that perfectly with your descriptive passage of Grace holding her quilt like a baby. Still, rounds for staff were every 3 hours, a long time for lonely, isolated patients. I was struck by sadness that this beautiful lady died, quietly, alone.

      When I allow myself to think about death, I can't dawdle there too long. I have imagined scenarios like the ones you describe in your story that exhibit lack of respect and worse, lack the humanity of compassionate acknowledgement that the donors were once alive, with the same feelings and dreams as the medical students and their loved ones. Because of this, I'm with my dad about cremation. I believe that many people still think of physicians as above ordinary mortals. Although, some might find TV shows like "ER", "Grey's Anatomy" and "House" trite and unrealistic, I feel these programs bust myths and, personally, remind me that doctors are imperfect, albeit, well-educated, industrious, determined human beings. I understand the importance of distance in being able to perform the difficult work that physicians do everyday, but there is a huge difference between clinical and cruel.

      Another sensitive, "can't look away", compelling story, Kathy. I'm completely, totally hooked. Thank you

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Kathy,

      This installment has me in tears, such a poignant union of both stories with the hopefulness of a "merging of sorts" between Grace and John.

      The factual information relayed in the Mercedes incident is powerful in its negativism, making John's approach so much more humanistic.

      You certainly got into the mind of a true nurse in your description of

      Helene. Coincidentally, my Mom gave me my middle name of Helen

      due to her kind nurse during my delivery.

      This is quickly becoming a favorite and I eagerly await your next


      Voted UP and UABI and heartfelt. Love, Maria

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      5 years ago from South Africa

      Absolutely beautiful and engrossing! I like your plot - capturing!

      This episode reminds me of my musing that after my death, during an autopsy, they will find all my organs, but they will not find me - the personality/character I was, will not even be found in my heart or in my brain. Now this reminds me of people's never-ending search for God. They will not find him in any of the bodies or organisms in the universe. He is spirit, and so are we. To get an idea who we were while we were alive, is but only to see/hear/read what we have done and how we have affected others.

      Voted up and awesome. Kathy, you deserve a thunderous applause!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Sounds like Grace passed happily, which is all that really matters. It was also nice that someone cared there, too.

    • josh3418 profile image

      Joshua Zerbini 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania


      Wow, I had no idea you were writing a fourth installment in this series! You always keep me guessing, and I love that about your writing. Great job here Kathy! The ending sad, but also joyous! Grace has lived with no regret and is ready to go home.

      Thanks for sharing another short story Kathy!

      P.S. I second Nellieanna's opinion regarding John Spencer.

    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 

      5 years ago from TEXAS

      Oh, wow, Kathy. I hope John Spencer will be the med student for whom Grace will be donor. These descriptions you've shared are not common, everyday knowledge for most of us. Very eye-opening - and none too easy.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A powerful message lies just beneath the surface of this story. It is uncomfortable to read at first but then you "grace" brings us back to humanness. I'm curious how you do for views in writing short stories....they normally don't garner a lot of views in the HubPages community. Anyway, I enjoyed this one very much. Nicely written!


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