"Seal Beach" - The Album Leaf
Our professor read this to us the first day of class and it meant little to nothing to me then. Just about 10 weeks later, it means everything to me. I have grown weary of our time in the lab and yet I am so grateful for the experience. I know without it I would not have discovered the depth of my empathy, the intensity of my fears, nor would I have learned so permanently half the things I have in these few summer months. I want to put this here as a reminder of the beginning of my experiences in graduate school. I want to be able to come back to it, even years from now and remember, vividly, what it was like; the good, the bad, the raw, the reality.
The Book I Couldn’t Buy
by Emily (Isaak) Schindler
I remember the difficulty we had with the electric saw that day. A professor had to come over and help us. There was smoke, the blade was turning brown, and you refused to yield to his heavy-handed attempt. He stopped, turning off the saw. “There’s your problem.” A wire, covered by connective tissue, had been used to rejoin your sternum after open-heart surgery. I remember thinking that it didn’t look very elegant--I briefly wondered if the surgeon had misplaced the real wire, forgotten the real technique, and instead taken a paperclip, wrapped it around the bone, twisted it a couple of times, folded it down, patted it, and closed you back up. It just didn’t seem very official.
We scoured you for clues. Your heart, large and broken, told most of the story. Neat blue stitches anchored vessels borrowed from your inner chest wall and your leg to your failing heart. The thick, muscular wall of your left ventricle invoked thoughts of strength, thoughts I knew were wrong--your heart was weak. Your left atrium exploded. It simply wasn’t there. Your heart failed you and your aorta followed suit.
I’m sorry. I really am. I remember looking at the impersonal card hanging from our table and thinking almost 90 was a nice, solid age to live to. Perhaps you had a taste for steak, indulged in dessert, and drank beer. Maybe you just ate too much. I would have gently told you that your weight was a little too high, that you would feel better and live longer if you changed your eating habits. I would have also remarked on how lucky you were to be so strong still--your muscles are all so long, large, and defined. It’s just that you’ve got a little too much fat on top of all that. Your prostate is enlarged. It was probably a nuisance. But that’s no matter now.
Maybe you tried to change. Maybe you did change. I can’t know. Won’t know. It’s odd, knowing things about you no one else knows. Your obturator artery comes off your inferior epigastric artery. The arteries feeding your large intestine were truly unique--from everywhere to everywhere. The instructor told us not to even look at them, lest we get confused. None of this really matters to you, I know.
Wildly variant minor arteries probably weren’t going to change who you were as a son, lover, student, employee, citizen, father, man. Fortunately, you saw that they might change who I would become as a physician. I wonder if you knew what would happen to your body, if you understood the violence that would be done to it. I have a feeling you did. I’m guessing you knew that we would separate you layer by layer, bone by bone, and learn you inside and out. You knew we needed you. You knew I needed you.
Your body was the book I couldn’t buy, the class only you could teach. You knew it and that’s why you were there. Now I know it, too.