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The Study of Gratitude

They are your first patients

we were told.

And like with later patients,

with them we shared discovery,

struggles and triumphs.

I learned from each and every one,

so much, so generously, each and every day.


But unlike any other patients

I will ever know,

when I was with them

I was in the presence of extraordinary grace

and giving.  And in those moments

when the sky was darkening outside the windows

and the rest of the city was going home to rest,

while I was still in the anatomy lab,

the top of this medical tower,

wracked and worrying, questioning everything including myself,

feeling the enormity of expectations, the size

and weight of my task ahead, and then, if I could just

lift my eyes and look around me

and allow myself to feel the tremendous gift,

the confidence they had in me that I could learn,

could grow and soon become knowledgeable enough

to care for others.  Faith in their own sense of purpose,

faith in me that I could keep the fruits of their gift growing.

And it was that gift that kept me on,

that gave me the strength to find success.


And when I think of what I’ve learned,

how far I’ve come already,

one experience stands out among the rest.

Because unlike any other patients, I will ever meet

these first patients taught me more

than I ever could have imagined there was to learn

about the purpose of giving and

the graceful art of gratitude.

Author’s note: This poem was written for and read at the Anatomical Donor Memorial Service hosted by Michigan State University on Sept. 20, 2013.

Amanda Rutishauser (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer Emeritus

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Amanda Rutishauser is a Class of 2016 medical student at the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University. She holds a BS in creative writing and microbiology from the University of Michigan and an MS in narrative medicine from Columbia University. She is the recipient of two Hopwood Awards and a William Carlos Williams Poetry award. She lives in West Michigan with her canary, Winston.