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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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First Cuts

I don’t know how to describe the first woman that I ever cut into. Any description that first comes to mind is purely factual, failing to capture the strange combination of sensations that passed over me.  The sight of her raw, emaciated body and bony limbs. Her otherworldly smell. The vague feeling of disconnectedness that overtook me.

Her identity was neatly inked onto an index card: 91-year-old female, died of dementia and dysphagia, university professor. Those were all the words I had about her life. The rest of her was splayed out before me. I would get to analyze every inch of her body, extract the heart that pumped her through nearly a century of life, dissect the brain that had eventually rebelled against her.

I couldn’t reconcile that this was both a body and a person. At one point, she had life. She was life. And now, as cliché as it sounds, she was merely skin and bones. I couldn’t stop reading the story imprinted onto that skin, the burdens borne by those bones. I remember seeing the white fuzz of hair that covered her scalp, the sunspots across her arms, her gnarled hands. The fingers on her right side were curled, as if she had been holding onto something in her final breaths. She was stiff, trapped in that moment.

Her face was covered in gauze. It didn’t escape me that her eyes were right there, under a strap of white. A dog tag dangled from her blackened toe, formaldehyde oozing from below her left calf.

We cut into her chest, making small incisions with a scalpel. Her body was tough. We created a flap of skin, below which was a webbed layer of yellow adipose. The fat would look the same, I learned, if I cut under my own skin. I felt so far removed from this object before me, yet intimately connected knowing that her body somehow mirrored my own.

She was a university professor. She still has so much to teach me.

Nishika Navrange
Farmington, Connecticut

Comments

17 thoughts on “First Cuts”

  1. Anurag Kamasamudram

    Wow that’s quite an experience! In medicine you’re often having to separate the patient from the person and I love your approach and empathy in the journey. Keep at it!

  2. Neha Maheshwari

    Such mixed feelings expressed in the most beautiful way!
    The last line is very heart touching. Being able to feel and respect the human who once had a life, behind a dead body is incredible. Well done Nishika. Wish you all the success in future!

  3. This is a perfect example of how to describe empathy yet at the same time remaining focused to your duties. It’s such a soul touching article written by Nishika. Lucky to have such doctors in making.

  4. Rashmi nigudkar

    Insightful read! A well written piece about an experience that’s a little scary for a non-doc to think about but something the profession needs you to confront. I’ll look forward to reading more about the great work you do in the future, wishing you all the success!!

  5. Awesome Nishika!
    Such a beautiful and heart-touching article. Really impressed with her empathy, compassionate views and way she has articulated it in words. Expressing emotions is not an easy task but she has done it splendidly. Being human is the first thing of realization whatever work we do and Nishika has proved it here. She will be a great doctor.

  6. Navrange writes with a maturity beyond her years, as it’s quite clear it’s her first human cadaver dissection experience. She creates a picture ethically with subtlety, honesty and candor. I am looking forward to more of her musings.

  7. The medical field is lucky to have you! Your insight and expertise are invaluable. Congratulations on this accomplishment, and many more to come!”:)

  8. Lalima Singhal

    Such a beautiful and touching piece! Very well articulated. When you think of finding a Doctor – you think of empathy, respect, and honesty. This beautiful article by Nishika is truly heartwarming and shows her empathetic side, respect, and sincerity towards her profession. Great Job

  9. I love this article, and how it perfectly encapsulates the mixed feeling of having your first dissection… the combination of disgust and being uncomfortable. It really shows that you will be a great doctor, especially if you can empathize with your dissection. Such incredible work!!!

  10. Really loved Nishika’s empathy driven learning approach here. At the heart of this narrative is a thought – which cuts much deeper than the scalpel. So much yet to learn.

    There is so much we all can learn just by pausing and reflecting on what we are doing at the moment.

    As she contributes more towards the medical community – we know that she will bring the best of her heart and mind. A rare combo!! Super excited for the future!!

  11. Nishika Navrange’s reflection on her first dissection is both moving and insightful. She beautifully captures the mix of awe and respect felt when faced with the profound reality of a cadaver. Her attention to detail and emotional honesty bring a deep humanity to the clinical experience, highlighting the powerful lessons learned beyond textbooks. It’s a touching reminder of the person behind the anatomy.

  12. A beautiful poignant essay capturing the sentiments of a medical students’s bold strides towards the profession!! Loved it!!

  13. We all remember our first experience in anatomy lab. This article puts the person behind the body. For a young medical student to have this much empathy while doing her first cuts- -medical profession is in safe hands.

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