The Cadaver's Committal


This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here.

From ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Skin to fat, fat to muscle,
Still twitching with the electricity
Of an eel out of water
We therefore commit this body to the
Single-edged
Sword…
Scalpel, penetrating to divide
…Soul and spirit,
Joint and marrow,
Still gliding on the jelly ocean of synovial fluid in protest
For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven
With the shouting screech of oscillation on bone
Ribs broken, lifted away
The mute joy of curved stainless steel
Cutting asunder one last fascial plane
A slowly beating heart
And the dead in Christ shall rise first.


What inspired this piece?

I wrote this piece coming out of my anatomy block in first year. I think it accurately reflects the multi-layered conflicts of my first interaction with a cadaver. Aside from the baseline difficulty of the course, the thought of what exactly we were doing every day disturbed me. Outside the anatomy lab context, could I live with this? I tried to reconcile honor for our donors and the necessities of medical education. This was most difficult when I found myself excited to dissect and learn; I felt guilt for indulging what I termed a “delightful horror.” 

Why did you choose poetry as a form?

While I am by no means “good” at poetry, I have found that it helps me express myself. I don’t have to spell things out as much as I would in an essay, for example, but can still get the same point across. I love spoken word poetry and tend to write in that style. 

How long have you been writing poetry and how does it affect your medical education?

Oh, good question. I don’t know exactly when poetry came into the mix, but I’ve been writing for my own enjoyment since the seventh grade. I started off with fiction stories and then bled into poetry and music. Poetry (and writing in general) has helped me reflect throughout medical school. Having the chance to explore writing more within the curriculum (in creative writing selectives, for example) has truly made medical school more enjoyable. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your views on the creative arts and medicine?

Spiritual health and the creative arts have been critical for my sustenance. These years have been the most difficult of my adult life; for many people this is also the case. I believe at least one, if not both, are needed to stay sane. 

Medicine itself is an art – those who choose medicine would benefit from engaging in art as well. 

Oluwatomilona “Tomi” Ifelayo is an MD candidate at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. She is a Christian student interested in creative writing and mentorship in medicine. 

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