Her hair was like black licorice, cold, curled, and still. Her lips, though dry and cracking, were full and puckered like a peach. She had the bone structure of an African goddess, one girls would kill for nowadays. Her nose, though slim and straight had a slight bend in the middle, only adding to the magnificence of her beauty. Detach yourself, detach yourself, I told myself, She’s not human anymore. She’s a corpse. Her long, slender limbs hung awkwardly from the anatomy lab table. Her wrinkled, dark brown skin reminded me of a sun-ripened raisin, especially around her eyes and mouth. She had clearly been a smiler. As I wondered what color eyes were hiding behind her thin, delicate eyelids embedded with tiny withered folds of skin, I resisted the urge to lift one to see. Standing stone still, I stared back at the body I would soon be working on, and read the nametag—“Dorothy Hollins, teacher, 85.”* She reminded me of my grandmother. Detach yourself, I heard the back of my mind tell me once again. Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I began to wonder what her life had been like. How many times had she brushed her wily curls, commanding them to lay down with every stroke as each tendril fought against it like little baby snakes fighting to gain the upper hand? Detach yourself. What was it about her heart that made her smile so much that even in death, the slight left crook of her lips with the surrounding smile lines betrayed any frown she may have had while living? I wondered if it was any bigger than other corpses I had seen. How many of her students had been enlightened by her brain, with its numerous nerve connections filled with memories, losses, and happiness, the one I knew I would end up dissecting soon? Detach yourself.
The ripples of veins on her long spindling hands had grown with every test she had graded, every word she had written on the moss green chalk boards, and every meal she had cooked for her family. Her hunched shoulders suggested humility, but she also had a regal attitude that emanated from her entire being. Her spine, on the other hand, was as straight as the ruler she had once used, showing the resilient spirit she had possessed even through death. I could see the influence she had had through every organ of her body. Detach yourself. Then, I gazed down at her feet, feet that had walked through streets of segregation and classrooms of unruly students. They were weathered, shriveled, corns and sores as much a part of them as the skin that covered them. Those feet had carried her for 85 years. Detach your—no. How could I detach myself from someone so unlike me that she was me? My grandmother would be her one day, and my mother, and my sister, and me. No, this was not a corpse I was working with, but a human being, who though dead, was somehow still present, and to me, still alive. She was alive through me, through the influence she had on me as I observed her body, through which I also observed her life. As I lifted my scalpel to her cold, chocolate skin, I could feel this influence and Dorothy saying, “Be careful now honey,” as she gazed down at me as though I had been one of her students, and in truth, I was. I was cutting into a lifetime of influence, and to detach myself from the reality of what I was doing would be to detach myself from life in all its stages.
“Of course, I will,” I whispered back to Dorothy as I slowly sliced into her velvet skin.
*Name and personal information were changed to maintain privacy
Lydia is a 2nd year medical student from Greenwood, Mississippi.
She has an interest in primary care and likes cows.