Saturday, 23 April 2011

A Different Viewpoint.

Warning - not for the squeamish. This blog-posting may contain controversial material.

I have always had something of a yearning for medical school, but in my days of 'O' and 'A' levels the choice between arts and sciences had to be made at a very early age. The old, and in so many ways admirable Grammar School system channelled its pupils into inflexible 'Arts' or 'Sciences'. Once in one of these channnels it was very difficult to change. I ended up as an 'Arts' pupil, with lots of English and Latin and Humanities and only 'General Science'. I should have been doing Biology and Physics, but I didn't and then, for 'A' level, I couldn't.

At several critical points in my life I explored the possibility of attending medical school, but it never quite worked out. There was another career, and marriage and parenthood, and a great many other good and satisfying things. But the leaning towards medicine has never completely left me.

At last, at 71 years of age, I have the opportunity.

My younger son was here a few weeks ago. He checked my application form for me, and countersigned to say I knew what I was doing.
'Go for it, Mum,' he said. 'If it's what you want, you go for it!'

My older son was told during a telephone conversation,
'Are you sure about this?' he said. 'Is this a fully rational decision? Have you thought it through, all the implications?'
I told him I had, that I was being quite grown-up and sensible, and he laughed.
'Good for you, Mum!' he said, just like his brother.

So now my application to attend the medical school of the nearest large teaching hospital is being processed.
I can't start just yet.
I have to wait until I'm dead.
Then, when I'm dead my body will go for anatomical study and dissection by medical students.

Medical schools need bodies. How else can student doctors learn the real and delicate intricacies of the human body? To me it seems the ultimate good sense to make proper use of something that would otherwise be burned or left to decompose in the ground. It seems the last act of generosity, the last thing I can give.

For anyone interested the information about body and organ donation in the UK may be found 'here'.

There are strings attached.
The Human Tissue Authority does not want flabby, saggy, fat-filled old bodies that are difficult to dissect, so I will have to become fitter.
The Authority does not want bodies that have been through a post-mortem examination and had essential bits removed, so I will try to die as neatly and predictably as possible.

I need to be a trim, relatively unscarred cadaver.
A great new ambition at 71!

The picture above is not for the faint-hearted, either. It's from the wonderful Xstrata Treetop Walkway at Kew Gardens. It sways and is see-through.


Jane said...

Well I hope you've lots of time yet to get fit for your new 'career'. Hope you're having a good Easter.

pohanginapete said...

Well, I'm sorry, but I hope your entry to the medical school is delayed a very long time. ;^)

That treetop walkway sounds wonderful. One of the highlights of my time in Ghana was walking the ropeway at Kakum National Park at dawn. I'm fine with heights as long as I know I'm safe. Exhilarating.

Zhoen said...

Good for you. I think ending up at a body farm for forensic research would work for my remains. If not, the government will bury me. I just want to go cheaply. Nor would I mind the anatomy students having at me, but it's harder here, sadly.

I would love that bench.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jane: thank you - a great incentive to get fit! Did you get up the Beacon this morning for the sunrise service (sans sun)?

P.Pete: We must ensure that you visit Kew on your next trip here. The tree-top experience is marvellous, and there's also an underground Rhizotron, to give the full picture of tree-life.

Zhoen: Yes, I'm keen to avoid undertakers at all costs - and the costs are astronomical.
I want that bench, too!

Molly said...

Good for you! Sounds like a much more useful way to go than burning something that could be so useful to science! But I do hope your fitness regimen will have the added benefit of keeping you alive for a long time yet!

Relatively Retiring said...

Molly: thank you, and yes, a paradoxical reason for staying fit!
I hope your own fallow time is proving fruitful, and that you meet up with more manatees.

Peregrina said...

RR, lovely to see you back again with your previous post. I've popped in regularly and, while I love (and covet) your Magic Box, I've missed finding new posts. I'm glad you're good at treading water - I'd be sorry to see your blog sink.

I've been treading water, too, lately. Plenty of thoughts, but expressing them has seemed to require too much effort.

Death has been constantly on my mind recently, as you will understand. In addition, a good friend has reached the last week or two of his life and is now in palliative care in a little country Cottage Hospital about an hour and a half's drive from this city - so we carpool to visit him. He's relaxed and calm, hand-writing memoirs of his sea-faring days for his sons. At night he sleeps with the curtains of his room drawn back so that his eyes open in the morning to the sight of the surrounding trees, their leaves changing colour as autumn advances.

This morning I went to the Dawn Service for ANZAC Day. I rarely go, but this year I felt the need to be with others from my beautiful, broken city, remembering those men, mostly very young, who went to war and didn't live to grow middle-aged, let alone old. No choice for them about what happened to their bodies. Collectively, too, we again remembered the people whose lives were unexpectedly extinguished because of where they happened to be at 12:51p.m. on a warm, sunny, February day when, with no warning, the very ground beneath us shook with the highest accelerations ever recorded anywhere. It was a lesson in the randomness of death.

But I began this to tell you that I, too, am registered with one of the two medical schools in this country as a potential donor of a cadaver for the students to learn from and practise on. I've always been in favour of getting every last bit of use out of things! There seems to be no concern about flabbiness of the flesh, but the "catchment" area is necessarily defined by distance from the medical school, so I must ensure I die within it. In addition, I should not die by violent means, such as a road accident, or have had major surgery less than a month before my death. Therefore I must take care in my living. Consulted, my family were agreeable. When I pointed out that there would be no plaque in a cemetery with my name on it, my children said, "We can plant a tree somewhere."

Relatively Retiring said...

Peregrina: Lovely to hear from you, and you will realise that my absence has been due to such profound experiences.
I feel so privileged to be a tiny part of the Hospice movement, and at be with people who face death with calmness, humour and great dignity.

My offspring, and any friends who wish to join them, will be told to go out for a really good meal, and then to do one of my favourite walks.
I think daily of you all in New Zealand, and especially of those to whom death came with no warning.

herhimnbryn said...

I hope you don't realise your ambition for a long. long time!

Relatively Retiring said...

HHnB: thank you....and just think how trim and fit I'll be by then!

leslee said...

Wonderful! And yes, I hope they have to wait a very long time and then to research how one stays fit and healthy and happy into one's centenarian years.

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: thank you, but the centenarian aspect is not a happy thought, not even with a degree of health. You'd have no friends left.

Anne said...

So much better than having one's body embalmed in nasty chemicals and put in a garishly ugly non-biodegradable box. And better than using a lot of energy to burn up the flesh and bones. Good for you for this decision.

Stay fit and upright for a long time before you recline on the dissecting table.

Relatively Retiring said...

Anne, thank you for your comment. I totally agree. We had an unpleasant disagreement with the undertakers over my husband's wish for a cardboard coffin. We won, but could have done without the argument.
Recently there has been public outcry against the proposal that surplus heat from a local crematorium could be used for a swimming pool.
As long as death remains such a difficult topic these daftnesses will continue!

den said...

I had no idea where your post was leading. I thought perhaps you were signing up for St Johns Ambulance, which would have the added benefit of free admission to pop concerts and football matches. Instead you've signed up for a place in heaven. You a star.
Twas very thought provoking..

Relatively Retiring said...

Hello Den: stupid me - I never thought about St. John's ambulance!

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to have discovered your blog (via Leslee at 3rd House Journal). I recently decided to donate my body, too. I sure don't want a funeral to be held on my behalf and if it can be of any use to med students, they are welcome to it!

Re living to 100 and beyond, a doctor recently advised my 73 year old extremely fit so far husband that when he "turns 100" he should start smoking and double the amount of whiskey he drinks, because "120 isn't pretty." I gather that was a compliment on Buck's great physical condition and the doc's assumption that he is likely to see 100. We had a pretty good laugh over it, anyway.

Relatively Retiring said...

Elizabeth: sorry I was slow to pick up your comment.
What a great story!
A few years ago there was a French woman, reputed to be the oldest person alive at the time, who gave up smoking when she was about 105 in case it shortened her life. Doing it the other way round is more sensible.