And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and said, “Take, eat; this is my body”~Mark 14:22

It was late afternoon in December. Only a gentle glow from the low sun slanting on the windows lit the large room. Before leaving for Christmas break, I wanted to retrieve my anatomy lab textbooks, the ones that years later, still smelled like formaldehyde. Incredibly, those of us who studied anatomy in the pre-AIDS era did not use gloves, but coated our hands with greasy “liquid glove” from a tube each afternoon before lab. I opened my locker thinking of all I’d learned, but not yet fully appreciative of the extent.

So much more that knowledge took root that fall. Lifelong friendships crystallized in little alphabetical cliques around a shared cadever-groups of students with last names beginning with “W” or “S” or “H”. I met my husband. And the hard work ethic and demanding schedule of a physician’s life began in earnest, the long hours far worse than those endured in college, not to let up for decades. The study was so intense it followed me home into my sleep.

One night I dreamt my cadaver was beside me-not in a horror nightmare sense, but reminding me very matter-of-factly that I really could follow this my chosen path. What a surprise it had been to learn that the scariest-sounding class of our training could be so fascinating and even enjoyable! How many of us who went into surgical specialties wished we could returned to the lab to dissect a cadaver again?

I lingered alone, but not alone in the lab. As I gazed at the mounds on the tables in the dimming room, I knew that plastic and canvas covered broken bodies. Tendons, nerves and vessels were dissected like electric wires; even saws had been taken to those bodies to open the mysteries of the skull and thorax to the wondering students. Those cadavers were no longer whole, but deconstructed and spent.

Yet I realized in a moment of awe, that this was a scene of incredible peace. This was not a sad, frightening or violent place. The room was full of people whose life’s work was finally complete. In death they had given of themselves in a way I knew I could not. They had given their all, literally, to help train a new generation of doctors. Their gift was priceless to me, my colleagues, our future patients.

Shattered temples of God-in their desecration had blessed us, walking beside us in the first steps of our transformation to become healers in His image. They were at peace at last, and I left the building in silent gratitude.

-Kathryn Hayes Arct, LLUSM class of 1984, practices obstetrics and gynecology in Riverside, California.