You are face up and completely naked,
Bared before me for my hands to touch and explore.
I take a step back to breathe, and formaldehyde assaults my nose.
My hands have a slight quiver as I begin to peel back the plastic around you.
I see your face frozen in a position that will never move, your body rigid and completely stiff …
Eagerness to learn makes my hands move.
A mind of their own, as they make the dissection.
I compare you to what the diagrams and textbooks describe and depict.
I hold your hands, lungs, and heart in my hands with extreme care.
I see your vessels and nerves, an intricate and beautifully complex pattern.
As I do this, I am in awe.
Verbal lessons become tangible.
Initial nerves slowly but surely subside.
I take it all in with wide-eyed wonder and curiosity.
Amazed by how much I get to learn and grateful for the opportunity.
I am humbled as I stare at you.
I do not know your life, your story.
I cannot tell if you were good or bad,
If your life was full of happiness or sorrow,
If you had a loving family and friends or isolation.
The list of questions in my head is long.
I have accepted the fact that I will not get answers.
However, I stand before you, a stranger, and see you.
I see you how many will never see you,
How many have never seen you.
I know you in death, not in life.
I know your age.
I know why you died.
I know how your hand feels.
I literally know how you look inside and out.
But that is it …
That is all I know, as I am not privy to much else,
Only the story your body tells.
I am not to pass judgment on who you were,
Nor to approve of your life.
I am to learn so I can one day heal and use the lessons you taught me in death.
For in your death, you have touched a few.
And that few will touch many lives.
For that, I thank you.
I have never seen or worked with a cadaver before attending medical school and being assigned days to attend anatomy lab classes. This poem is a reflection of my first experience dissecting a cadaver and the thoughts I had throughout the experience. I wrote this piece as an expression of gratitude for the opportunity I was presented and to put into words how I, and probably many others, have felt about the experience.