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Editor's Commentary on 'The First Patient'

Four strangers uncovered another, / Isolated on their own little islands, / Little territories elevated and aerated, / The living devoured the dead.” This poem strikes out with aggression and horror, venting the guilt of taking knowledge from our patients. In this poem, medical students are scavenging every bit of knowledge from a dead body, leaving no stone unturned, no cavity unprobed. “They cut his heart open to look for holes, / Found its intricate struts like spider webs, / Like a crimson flower folded upon itself.” As the students learn more, the body becomes less. The body loses its hand, its penis, its heart. The tenuous threads connecting the corpse to reality are meticulously snipped one by one. This poem strikes at a vein of guilt that every conscientious medical trainee has felt at some point in his or her career, whether during anatomy class, or after a failed procedure, or following an inappropriate medical decision. The guilt of education, the feeling of stealing from our patients in order to learn, can cut deeply. Learning from patients in medical education is a necessity, but should be undertaken with a sincere gravity and honesty. For even after “They cut / Away all the parts most recognizable”, the patient and his sacrifice still remain.


Bryan Sisk
Deputy Editor, The Living Hand