Death and Commencement Speeches
July 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
My Aunt Aida, when she was visiting us in Oslo, recommended a movie to Skjalg and I called “Gross Anatomy”. I had never heard of it before (I even thought for a moment that she meant Grey’s Anatomy…). She thought we would appreciate the story – and she was right. It took a while to find a copy of it, but we were lucky enough to find it split into 8 parts on youtube.
One of my favorite parts of the movie was the commencement speech. I found it exiting and intimidating at the same time:
Welcome to medical school. Many of you have only been here a day or so, I’m glad to see that you could find your way here. My name is Dr. Rachel Woodruff and in the next 8 months you will be required to memorize 6,000 anatomical structures, read 25,000 pages of text, attend 200 lectures and pass, or fail, 40 examinations. If you fail a class, you have to repeat it. If you fail two, you have to repeat the entire term. If you fail three, well, let’s just say that you probably don’t belong here. Along with my duties as Associate Dean of Students, I also teach gross human anatomy. The one thing you’ve dreaded since the moment you made the decision to come here. (She wheels a gurney carrying a cadaver covered with a white sheet to the front of the stage). Nonetheless, it is the centerpiece of your first year of medical school. Systematic dissection of a human cadaver. (She slides the white sheet off of the cadaver, revealing it to the crowd. The crowd reacts.) This woman here, died in our university hospital just a few nights ago. It’s a very difficult thing, to face death. But that’s what doctors have to do their entire careers. In your first year of medical school, is a daily, hands-on exploration of it. It’s not easy. It’s, uh, certainly not pleasant. And there is just absolutely no reason for you to do it unless you want more than anything to be a physician. So if you’re not completely sure of that, I urge you to get up and walk out of this room right now. (Pause as students look around the room at each other). Good. I can assume you are committed, and I will help you – those of you that should be doctors – in any way I can. Oh, by the way, the profession you’ve just dedicated yourselves to carries the highest rates of alcoholism, drug-addiction, divorce and suicide. (And then she simply just walks away).
It got me to thinking… I have never actually seen a dead body. I’ve never even known anyone that had died. This is definitely going to be a big experience for me! I remember my mom telling me that seeing a cadaver for the first time was one of the oddest experiences she’s ever had. And here I am, going from no experience with death to daily experiences with it. I think we even begin dissecting upper limbs in week two of anatomy class…