Arts and Poetry, Featured, Journeys in Education, Perspective

First Dissection


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.

Image credit: “Surgical Scalpel by tudedude is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Dyese Moody Dyese Moody (1 Posts)

Medical Student Contributing Writer

University of Illinois College of Medicine - Chicago

Dyese is a third year medical student at UIC COM-Chicago. She's also a HPSP scholar and hopes to pursue a residency in internal medicine in the future. Her hobbies include netflix, reading, baking, and writing poems. Dyese has been writing off and on for the past 10 years, and her pieces normally reflect her personal experiences or channels the experiences of others.