I got the call during anatomy lab,
while holding your heart in my palms.
Otosan has heart failure, said my mom.
Two days and 5,000 miles later,
I held my grandpa’s hand
as he labored to breathe,
his JVP a butterfly
amidst a chorus of monitor alarms.
Later, when I unnestled your lungs from the thoracic cavity,
I wondered, if halfway across the world,
a student was doing the same thing,
examining Otosan’s lungs,
dense and shrunken from interstitial pneumonia.
I was given your age, sex, profession, and cause of death.
But I want to know—
Who are you?
Who did you love?
Who did you leave behind?
I thumb through your muscles like pages in a book,
tugging on pearly tendons to see what moves you,
pushing aside thick muscle to prod a deeper layer,
illuminating parts of you that no one else has ever touched.
I ask for your forgiveness
before moving your arm to an unnatural position to look at your brachial plexus,
following the network of nerves, pale and glistening,
that braid down your shoulder and arm,
and wonder who you have held.
We put socks on your hands and feet, for your privacy.
I think it makes you look like a baby,
mittens covering long yellowed fingernails and socks rubbing on exposed ligaments.
I find myself patting your hand before zipping you up.
I identify structures on twenty donors,
each draped carefully with light blue cloth.
and I almost forget that this could be
who became a donor like you.
You don’t feel like my first patient,
but you taught me my first lesson in medicine:
never forget the heart of it.