Why You Should Give From the Heart…Literally
Valentine’s day…the day we shower loved ones with candies and bouquets of roses. Hoping to win that special someone’s heart, or maybe seeking a fresh start. Ah, love, the heart wants what it wants.
But let’s not forget that other national holiday observed today. Today we also celebrate the ultimate gift — the giving of life to another.
Today is National Donor Day and it always takes me back in time to a seemingly random day that led to a shift in my perspective.
Shortly after graduating from college, I took a job with the government, which required me to relocate to a new city. I was fortunate to have a good friend living there. He was in medical school, and since we both wanted to save money, we got an apartment together.
As you can imagine, medical school is tough. But occasionally, when he would have a free night, we would hit up a local bar, just off campus, and unwind.
One particular evening, we got on the subject of organ transplants. I mentioned that I had not signed my organ donor card.
To which he replied, “Why not?”
I made a half-hearted attempt at justifying my position, and it wasn’t a great explanation. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I quickly changed the subject.
Toward the end of the evening, my friend said we should make one more stop. We left the bar and walked toward home. My buddy suddenly turned onto the campus grounds and waved for me to follow. Thinking he wanted to walk off a drink or two, I settled in beside him to continue our conversation.
I asked where we were going, and I got a quick, “You’ll see.”
Continuing our walk, we cut between two buildings off the quad and stopped at the next junction. The building directly in front of us wasn’t big compared to the ones facing the central courtyard. It was a long, rectangular two-story building with tall windows.
My friend walked up to the door, punched in his code, and the door clicked open. He said it was the medical school building, and they were allowed in at all hours if they needed to study or work.
Walking in, a few of the automated lights kicked on. I wouldn’t describe it as well lit, but enough light to navigate the halls. I followed him through the corridor, down a back set of stairs, and into the lower level. I could almost feel the darkness closing in around us like it didn’t want us there.
He came to a stop in front of a nondescript door. As I got closer to read the writing on it, goosebumps went up my arms, and I was suddenly gripped with dread.
He had brought me to the medical school’s anatomy lab.
He opened the door, and we stepped inside. We were in a vast room full of stainless steel tables, and on each table was a body. There I was, standing in the dark, staring out at a sea of dead people.
I asked if we could flip on the lights, but he said he didn’t want to draw attention. We would have to make do with the light coming in from the wall of windows that lay in front of us. It threw an eerie glow on everything, making the scene even more unnerving.
I said, “Why aren’t they in the freezer or something.”
He replied, “It’s not a morgue. They all have been embalmed to preserve the body for study. Can’t you smell it?”
Having a terrible sense of smell, I admitted, “No, it’s barely noticeable to me.”
“Lucky you,” He said.
He let me take it all in for a few seconds. Then he said, “Let me show you something else real quick.”
He went to a clipboard on the wall and scanned through its pages until he found what he wanted. Turning to face the room, I could see him mentally counting over rows until he found the table he was searching for.
“Come on,” he said as he walked down the rows.
I was hesitant to move into the crowd of tables. I liked my safe position next to the door quite a bit.
He noticed and said, “It isn’t a movie. They aren’t getting up and going to eat your brains. In fact, none of them have heads. They are removed before we get them”
“Really, that seems weird,” I said.
He told me how they dissect them at other times in the semester. So they are stored elsewhere.
He stopped in front of one table, and I begrudgingly walked to stand beside him. The table he chose happened to be in front of the windows, so the moonlight illuminated the scene more.
“Here, put these on,” as he handed me a pair of gloves.
Looking down, I could see the body was already in stages of dissection. The chest cavity had been open, revealing the internal organs. My future doctor friend spent a few minutes pointing out the various organs that we could visibly see.
When he got to the lungs, he actually stuck his hand in and felt around, saying, “I looked it up on the chart. This person died of lung cancer. Here feel that.”
I hesitated but stuck my hand to where he was holding the lung.
“That’s the cancerous area,” he said
I felt the area. The tissue was hard. Like I was squeezing pebbles between my fingers. Comparing that to the surrounding area, I could feel the tissue get more spongy as I worked my way up.
“Wow, not what I was expecting,” I told him.
At that point, my hesitancy and fear were replaced with how surreal and eye-opening the experience was. We spent another few minutes in the lab and then walked out the way we came.
As we left the building and walked back across campus, He told me that all those people volunteered to give their bodies to science, hoping that others could study and learn from them.
I’m sure he probably hasn’t thought of that night for years. But it has always stayed with me. I appreciated the experience, and while I never told him, it shaped my thinking on many things to this day. Most notably, it changed how I felt toward being an organ donor. I signed up shortly after that night.
This story has always sat with me as an example of how you can think through your beliefs at various stages in your life. To revisit them and see if they still make sense once you are given more information.
Today millions of people are celebrating love and relationships. But it is also a day to think about giving back. Many organizations sponsor blood drive and encourage people to become marrow donors. While you are celebrating love and relationships, consider another way to bring someone happiness.
Consider donating blood to your local red cross, or help one of the 18,000 people waiting for a bone marrow transplant,
Here are several ways you can help: