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From the Beginning: Remembering the First Day of Anatomy Lab

It was Wednesday, August 4, 2010, a day I will never forget. I woke up that morning in anticipation of meeting a new friend who I had never met before. Up until this point, this friend was only in my dreams; I only had imagined how he would look, how old he would be, or where he would be from–let alone a multitude of other questions. Today was the day when I would meet this mystery person.

It was 1 p.m. as I approached the door to the anatomy lab. I was met with both excitement and fear. It was a meeting I had dreamed of and looking forward to since high school. However, at the same time, fear began to seep through my veins, as I had never met a stranger before, let alone a person that I had never spoken to, not even through Facebook. Who could this mystery person be? As I entered the room, I saw to my right the typical hand washing faucets and tissue dispensers. However, to my left, I witnessed a multitude of silver tanks. My meeting would be right around the corner. I gathered around my meeting place–Tank #2, as they call it–with my fellow tankmates, all of whom had facial expressions comparable to kids being in a candy store for the first time.

The time had come. The tank’s doors were lifted, and up came this new friend. It was an awkward moment for me, a motionless body draped in off-white muslin sheets, as I saw him from above. This was my first experience being close to a deceased individual and the feeling was foreign to my emotional receptors. As we began to unveil the sheets, my dreams from earlier years of meeting this person were materializing in my mind. My sympathetic nervous system started to kick into high gear. He seemed like a man in his late 50s, very lean and not an inch of fat on him, which got me wondering: was this man really that physically fit, or were his body features the result of a genetic condition or disease process late in life. I was quite puzzled.

As I began to make my way from the midsternal region down to his abdominal area, I noticed a large invagination of skin on his right lower quadrant of the abdomen. As I further examined this unusual structure, I was reminded of my experience as an emergency room scribe at a local hospital. I vividly remember coming into contact with a patient that had a very similar invagination of skin on his right lower quadrant. Revisiting that encounter, I recalled that the patient was in the ER that day because he had pulled on his feeding tube, causing it to discharge. Going back to my “new friend” and with my past experience still fresh in my mind, I began to paint an image of this individual. In his early years, he appeared as a fairly healthy individual, had good upper body muscle tone, and had no evidence of bone fractures–probably even ran frequently and ate healthily.

However, as the years went on and especially during his later years of life, it appeared he was met with a variety of health abnormalities. The invagination of skin, as previously mentioned, coupled with the coarse and rough texture of his skin got me thinking that maybe this individual was inflicted by cancer at some point in his life, maybe cancer of the liver or of the gastrointestinal tract.

Continuing with my investigation, I noticed remnants of a surgical incision in his right groin area. Maybe he had an inguinal hernia at some point in his early years when he was more physically fit–lifting weights, running, participating in activities that added stress to his body. Acting as a medical detective, I began to explore possible cause of death. Maybe it was strictly cancer that led to his demise, maybe he had diabetes and congestive heart failure that could have potentially contributed to his death. It was hard to detect by simply examining his superficial anatomy. As I have begun to complete my diagnosis, I am confident that his lifestyle was not a cause of his demise for the reasons mentioned above.

This is my new friend, and as a friend of his, I begin to wonder what might have motivated this individual to donate his body for the betterment of my education. He has never spoken to me, met me, or even had dinner with me. I am an alien to him. It was at this moment that I realized the depth of our friendship. With one gesture you can change a person’s life: God puts us all in each others’ life to impact one another in some way.

“To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

Hormuz Nicolwala Hormuz Nicolwala (5 Posts)

Editor Emeritus: Former Medical Student Editor (2013-2015)

Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine

I am currently a first-year pediatric resident at the Children's Hospital of West Virginia. I received my MD degree from Texas A&M Health Science Center in 2014. I love medical writing!