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To a Body Donor

A poem I wrote a few years ago, "To a Body Donor," originally published by Intima, was recently re-released here on a new website dedicated to amplifying voices within the healthcare community.


I wrote this poem in my first year of medical school at the Zucker School of Medicine. Divided into pre-assigned groups of 4 or 5 students, we were entrusted with the care and study of the same body donor over the course of our entire first year. We would revisit our donor periodically in the same groups to explore different anatomical systems. At the end of the year, we honored the gift with live musical performances and readings at the Whole Body Anatomical Gift ceremony, where we had the opportunity to express our appreciation to individuals and families who had contributed so much to the education of future healthcare providers.


Like poetry itself, the donation of a body has many afterlives and immortalities. At Zucker, we were encouraged to imagine the life and personhood of the donor we studied and write reflectively on our experience after our first session. We very much felt a sense of awe, both at the continued presence we felt from the donors as well as from everything we were fortunate to learn in a way that no textbook or video could impart. For those of us without prior healthcare training, our donors were, in a real sense, our first patients, and I believe that the imaginary exercise of humanizing our patients persists to some extent in many of us with every subsequent patient encounter. That is one immortality.


But in addition to that, I could not shake the suspicion that everything we learned, including our sense of awe, was dwarfed by the transfigurations our donors themselves experienced and what they may have learned through death and dying; that perhaps they were engaged in a different and far more astonishing immortality. The process of dissection felt to me like a sort of sublimation in which the body’s paper-thin frailty evanesced into something less physical but more lasting, which is mysterious in its own right.


For more information on Zucker’s Whole Body Anatomical Gift Program, interested readers can visit https://medicine.hofstra.edu/agp.

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