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Topic: Teachers (07/12/04)
TITLE: Dead Man Talking
By Linda Germain
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The seasoned pathologist showed no signs of pampering our shivering group of student nurses. For him, it was another day, another diagnosis. For me, it was a pivotal moment that colored my spiritual and emotional development. Sometimes knowledge confirms a truth. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.
We were naive students, shocked into maturity by the daily reality of disease and trauma. The goal was to comfort, assist, observe, and certainly to invest us in the preservation of life. That day, deep in the bowels of the hospital, we were in new and unfamiliar territory, a discomfiting place concerned with probing for answers to questions left at the door of death.
There were two teachers in that morgue. The jaded and somewhat gruff doctor performing the post mortem, and the man lying on the stainless steel bed whose only cover was a huge, round and very bright light. He was about 30 years old and movie star handsome. I could not take my gaze from his incredibly curly eyelashes. Maybe he was just asleep.
Desperately, I wanted there to have been a horrible mistake and someone would say, “Oops, he is in the wrong place.” That thought had an intense grip on me, as it must have on the other novices, because there was a collective gasp when the pathologist picked up his scalpel and began what to him was routine. I am not sure any of us exhaled until the procedure was over and we could escape for fresh air and even a few tears.
Teacher number one, with his scientific bluntness, showed us in ten minutes what some never learn in a lifetime. He presented absolute and unwavering evidence that cigarette smoke goes into your lungs, but it does not come back out. Black tar replaces pink, healthy tissue. Then with a swift but thorough examination, we saw how little alcohol it takes to affect the liver; an organ better served not struggling to filter the toxic liquid.
I cannot remember the cause of this young man’s demise, but the signs of distress from imprudent decisions were already apparent inside that fearfully and wonderfully made human. Smoking and imbibing will eventually demand payment, but in the meantime, there may be years of protracted suffering from emphysema, heart disease, cirrhosis or alcoholism. That warning generally falls on deaf ears.
The other and probably more significant thing I learned on that illuminating day was from the young cadaver himself, who only a few hours before had been a warm, loving father and husband with life cursing through his veins.
Knowing from scripture that once we are born our spirits never die, I wondered where he was. Was he standing before God at this very moment? Was his name in the book of life that my grandmother harped about all the time? While his body was providing medical enlightenment, where was he?
The deceased, oblivious to anything happening on this planet, made a resounding impression. He taught me the journey through life could certainly halt with a sudden jolt, and with no time to prepare. Still, it eventually ends for every living thing.
Seeing him lying there, stopped in his earth tracks for good, triggered an awareness of eternity I had never felt before. Over the years,countless deathbed dramas never failed to make me wonder, “Where are you now? Are you with Jesus?”
Today I would add, “And is that where you intended to be?”