A Piece of My Mind
October 6, 1999

Islands I Hardly Knew

Author Affiliations

Edited by Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(13):1209-1210. doi:10.1001/jama.282.13.1209

No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.—John Donne, Meditation 17

This is a meditation of sorts, about four physicians, unknown to each other and hardly known to me during their lives.

The first was a colleague early in my training as a doctor. In the galleried lecture halls that we occupied each day, she was one of the "front-benchers," their backs to the rest of us, faceless and for the most part voiceless. On a humid summer afternoon, I filed past her slender body, lying soft on a slab in the morgue, my eyes seeing her for the first time as my colleagues and I said good-bye to one of our own. She had simply walked into the sea earlier that day. All I knew of her during her life was her name and that she was not married. After her death I learned that she had chosen the waves' tepid embrace over her family's anticipated, and assumed, rejection—of her and her 6-week-old embryo. Apparently she had been too frightened to tell anyone about her pregnancy.

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