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A Piece of My Mind
December 14, 2011

The Artist of Medicine

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana (

JAMA. 2011;306(22):2429-2430. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1749

When they opened the humidor for the first time, they saw a woman whose body they would know inside and out, top to bottom, in the kind of detail most people never imagine. The more they searched, the more layers they revealed, the less she resembled her former self. As she was reduced, day by day, into pieces, the group constructed a complete map of the human body in their minds, forming the foundation on which they would build their entire careers.

They may not have realized it, but they missed things in their hours, their months, of meticulous dissection of this woman's remains. They saw her shaved head, but missed the fact that she spent her 54 years with long, wavy brown hair. When they separated the thin muscles in her arms, they couldn't tell that before six months of chemotherapy, her forearms were strong and defined from 30 years spent building stained-glass windows. And when they discovered how the cancer grew in her reproductive organs and spread throughout her body, they couldn't even imagine something else had grown there before. But I can imagine it. I can imagine that she gave birth twice. In fact, I know she gave birth twice. How can I be so certain? Because the first time was to my big sister, Kelsey, and the second time was to me.

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