Medical students receive training during their first months at Baylor College of Medicine in the anatomy lab. They learn from their instructors, through peer-to-peer learning and, perhaps most importantly, through their “silent professors.”
I owe you a confession – before the first day of class, only insecurity reverberated in my soul. With a racing heart and apprehension, I feared I wasn’t ready for our first encounter. That I wasn’t ready for the knowledge you would bequeath to me. I saw you for the first time filled with reticence and inexperience. You exuded a calmness that pacified and encouraged me with words never spoken.
I didn’t know too much about you nor you about me. You still decided to be my instructor, my teacher.
I started out with shaky hands. An untrained butcher with no finesse. Did I go too deep, too superficial? I cut and I slashed – leaving destruction in my wake. But you, in your kindness, allowed me to proceed. To continue on despite my blunders. To make mistakes so I could learn.
With your help and the passing of time, I started to understand. To notice the delicate, but irrefutably intricate and astounding structure. The parsimonious design that so elegantly gave life to life. Two cells that were harmoniously intertwined had given way to every piece of you. To the complexity you sought to teach me and which I struggled to tattoo inside my mind.
I touched your arms, your feet, your face. With my own two hands, I held your heart, your brain, your lungs. The arms you once embraced with. The feet you stood on as you marked your presence in this world. The face you smiled with, you frowned with, you cried with, the face you laughed with. The heart that was the synchronous soundtrack to your life as it nourished you with each and every beat. The brain that orchestrated your every action and inaction and that housed your thoughts, your fears and insecurities, your passion, your love. The lungs that you took your very first breath with, and the lungs with which you took your last.
Sometimes it was easy to get caught up in routine. To see the ink on that white paper and follow through with mechanic motions. To get from A to B with inattention, disregarding the journey inherently entailed. But when I was truly present and allowed myself to listen; when I looked past ticking checklists – the stories that you shared with me taught some of the most valuable lessons.
Each suture was an anecdote, each wrinkle an experience. Your scars revealed the storms that you had weathered and the battles you had fought. You didn’t hesitate to divulge the most intimate of knowledge, teaching me about my own vulnerability and fragility while encouraging me with your resilience. How did I ever earn the privilege to bear witness to your truths?
You were so much more than a professor. You were my coach, my mentor, and my guide. You were the silent stranger that confided in me and blindly trusted my convictions. You gave me knowledge I could never hope to learn without you and built the foundation to my medical education in an exercise of absolute self-effacement. There are no words that can adequately capture my infinite gratitude for your sacrifice and for your gift. I can only vow to honor the knowledge I’ve inherited from you and to keep it pure. That your lessons will live as long as I do. Your teachings I’ll carry with me; from my first patient to my last.