The Volunteer

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An aged man, wasted yet tall,

volunteered for the operation.

We surgeons, four in all

were standing at our station.

He revealed no history

of ills or operations,

and made a  mystery

of past and occupations.

If one who’s lived so long’s

a treasure trove of time,

to hoard it ‘til it’s gone

must be a sort of crime.

What had he seen or done;

That never should- or will –

be known  to anyone

the day his voice  is still?

Did he like to choose

truthfulness to lies?

And when he was accused,

make amends, not alibis?

He didn’t say.

Yet he gave permission

to cut his body,

through limitless incision

as if it were his duty.

We scanned the manual

for detailed instructions.

Naomi chose a scalpel

for the hand dissection.

And on his wrist we read

words and numbers in a line.

In faded black they said:

USArmy ‘42-‘69

His cadaver stiff and thin

taught Anatomy that day

though soaked in formalin.

Why? He didn’t say.


For most freshman med students the first day with a cadaver is unforgettable. Mine was. I wrote this little poem in appreciation of our U Minnesota donor.

Body Donation appeals to me the same way driver’s license organ donation authorization does.  Both these options make me potentially useful to others after I lose my packaging.

I suggest that consideration of Body Donation should usually be made after age 65, because an earlier death can be more traumatic for survivors. It is reasonable, however, to introduce the idea beforehand, allowing for comment by family.

I can’t claim original thinking in this matter, because my father’s parents did that before me. They made the decision at age 65, and went to Stanford medical school in their 10th decade.



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