Author: Nicky Chopra
The first experience of death and dissection in the anatomy lab is a powerful one for any medical student. This letter was written retrospectively to a woman who chose to donate her body for this most insightful interaction.
When we first met you I had so many questions about your life. What did your voice sound like? Who were the people you had loved? If we had a conversation, would your sense of humor and mischievous eyes make me dissolve into giggles or were you more quiet and shy initially? It seemed strange knowing we’d spend a semester focused on you, a perfect stranger, without knowing anything more than your age and your condition, not even your real name. We ourselves were just getting to know each other, and for me at least, you symbolized our first real milestone toward becoming compassionate and knowledgeable doctors. But I grappled with what lay ahead.
You were our first patient, we were told. From you, we were to learn anatomy in a way no books could ever teach us. And even though I understood this conceptually, I had no way of knowing the profound impact our time together would have on me.
You see, I was trying to know you as I have known every other person before you. I was trying to know the “real,” the “emotional” you—the part of you that everyone who knew you before me had seen. But I wasn’t so lucky. So instead I had to settle for the physical you, the map of your life, the part of you that executed your ideas and made your presence palpable.
But even with this limited access, each week I learned more about you, and now I feel I know you very well. I know one aspect of you so completely that it’s hard to imagine that I never met you in life. I feel like I’m your lifelong pen pal, never quite getting to know the full you, but knowing one part of you fully.
Your personality was a gift to your family and your friends. Your laughter, your jokes, your kind shoulder to cry on—those I will never know. But your body has been a gift to me. Your muscles, your cells, the vessels that pumped your blood again and again and again—these have been unlike any other gift I’ve ever received.
I now know your body better than I know my own, and through it, I feel more connected to everyone I know, and everyone I will know, especially my future patients. Knowing you has allowed me to know them. Caring for you will allow me to care for them. And learning from you means that each time I care for them, you will be remembered.
Thank you for your gift.
About the Author: Nicky Chopra
Nicky is a second-year medical student at UT Southwestern.