November 12, 1997

Facing the Future

Author Affiliations

Lubbock, Tex

JAMA. 1997;278(18):1471-1472. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550180015004

Our dissection began as a tribal ritual. Only this time, instead of ceremoniously dancing in hopes of reaping a large crop or creating a drought-ending rainfall, we came seeking knowledge. Knowledge passed down perhaps somewhat callously, as is our custom, from one generation to the next so that we can contemplate death before we attempt to understand life.

We arrive in full costume: white coat, rubber gloves, dissection manual, scalpel, scissors, and a fresh change of clothes in case the mixed smell of formaldehyde and decaying flesh decided to follow us home. My face was painted with the grave, forbidding expression that the cadavers themselves might have had if they had known I was about to carve them up, system by system, organ by organ, vein by vein, and nerve by nerve, until all that would remain is a box of scraps 2 feet by 2 feet.

We stood outside