Sunday, May 15, 2011


This Wednesday, Penn hosted the Humanity Gifts Registry's annual Celebration of Remembrance ceremony.

This is a ceremony "for the individuals who have provided their bodies for one final service to their fellowmen - the contribution to Medical Education and Research".  Anatomy isn't something you can learn from a textbook or a professor.  I mentioned this in my blog post after our last anatomy class too.  My class (and other medical school classes from around the city) was happy we had the chance to show the family of these brave donors how much we appreciated our donor's selflessness.

I was lucky enough to be one of the eulogizers during the ceremony.  I was also the first eulogizer (no pressure!) Fortunately, I had an awesome set of friends who helped me craft a great eulogy - thanks Asmi, Jon, Anna, Paul and Eric!  I couldn't have done with without you guys.  I can't think of a better way to express my gratitude to our donors than the speech, so here it is:

In my culture, we have an old Sanskrit adage: “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Dheivum.”  Translated, it means “Mother, Father, Teacher, God.”  Like any saying that has deep religious and spiritual roots, the literal meaning of this phrase has been argued for a very long time.  To me, it emphasizes the importance of teachers in our lives: like our mothers who teach us to play nicely with our siblings; our fathers who teach us never to start a fight; or our friends who teach us to love and share with one another. In the classroom, we may learn from a professor, or from scripture.  We also learn from our classmates, like a friend who reminds you that the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone might not be the most accurate way to describe a leg joint. We all have many teachers, and they all share common traits: they shape and form us; they guide our conscience and learning; and they ensure that we stay true to our values. In short, they help us grow: intellectually; professionally; and personally. At the core, these are all examples of paying it forward: by educating us, they show us how to make a positive impact on the world.  Maybe this ripple effect on the student’s life, as well as all other people with whom the student comes into contact, is why my culture associates teachers with divinity. 

To say that each of the donors that we honor today is a teacher is an understatement.  In my medical school alone, each donor has, in one way or another, helped instruct 168 students. I don't think I'll ever have another class as amazing as Anatomy.  I'm extremely humbled and touched that people have donated their bodies to science so we can train to become the best doctors we can be.  I would like to take a moment to thank the people and their families who make Anatomy possible.  Thank you all, so very much.  Be assured that our class (and medical school classes around the world) has learned an immense amount from our donors, lessons we could not have learned any other way.  Know that our ability to improve or save lives in the future stems from the willingness and commitment of these selfless people, and their families, to our continued education.

What I didn’t realize then was how our donors stay with us long after our Anatomy class.  Even in our classes now – where we are learning about renal artery blockages, vericoceles, or cerebral vasculature with the circle of Willis, I stop and think back to my anatomy lab and recall what the relevant structure looks like.  The anatomy experience allows me to visualize the pathological process that is happening and how it fits into a patient’s illness and treatment.  This exercise cannot be effectively learned from a professor’s lecture, a classmate’s explanation, or a textbook; it would be impossible without the contribution from our donors. Every patient we meet teaches us something. We consider our donors to be our first patients: their impact on us will, without a doubt, stay with us for life.

At the same time, I do not know who these donors were in life.  But you do.  They were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.  They were friends.  As Pericles said many millennia ago: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”   I am sure every one of these donors had an impact on your lives.  But only a select few can make a substantive impact even after they’ve left this world.  We will soon read aloud the names of each donor, and every single person on that list is part of that select few.  Their nobility will not be forgotten, and their selflessness will continue to be greatly appreciated by us, and by our future patients.

Thank you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Random thoughts

This has been an interesting week and weekend.  A lot of stuff happened (some good, some bad) - you'd think I'd have things to write about after it... but oddly I don't.  I'm not sure if my brain is just shutting down, but the whole week just seems like a haze.  I know stuff happened - but I'm not quite sure what they were.  Hopefully this happens to everyone at some point.  If not I'm either (a) getting really old or (b) need to seek medical help.

On a side note: one important thing we learned this week is never say a patient died "because they are old".  If your boss asks you "why does the patient have these issues", don't answer "because they are old!" That pearl of wisdom had us cracking up for a while.

We learned about the physiology of coitus (yes, seriously).  This was a nice capstone to our earlier lectures on how to build strong, positive relationships.  That earlier lecture on building good relationships was amazing - I feel like those were 2 lectures everyone should watch.  It can, quite literally, change your life.

Have I mentioned I love medical school?

Two more things:

1. Happy mother's day!  More than that, I want to say thanks to all the mothers out there.  We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you, and we wouldn't be the people we are if you weren't "lovingly encouraging" us to reach our potential.  Keep it up!  We may not be able to thank you as young kiddies, but we will once we are old / mature enough.  Even if we don't say it, we appreciate you being there for us - don't ever stop.

2. We've got a remembrance ceremony coming up.  This is for all those great souls who donated their bodies to science so the medical students can learn anatomy and human physiology.  I'm humbled and honored to be a participant in the ceremony.  I feel like anything we do to thank them will pale in comparison to what they've done for us (and for all of our future patients), but we are going to try anyway.  Hopefully things will go well on Wednesday, and their families will see how much we appreciate what our donors have given us.

Ok, I'm running on 4.5 hours of sleep (not because I was studying) - time to catch up !

- Karthik

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to not rust

Whenever we learn about an illness in medical school, we also talk about the etiology - the origin of the disease.  The etiology almost always includes a combination of: genetics, environmental factors, drugs, and sometimes, nurture.  What we don't talk about as much is how these things interplay in curing illnesses as well.  Maybe we'll talk about it a bit more later on, but for now it's usually "Drugs X, Y, and Z; get lots of exercise, eat well; and have a supportive family".  

Over the last few weeks I was thinking about how environmental factors continue to shape us as people.  Specifically, the friends, colleagues and classmates we have around us.  I don't know about you, but for me, where I went to school played a huge role in selecting the friends I had growing up.  And it continues to do so.  Coming to an amazing institution like Penn Med means the friends I have around me are equally amazing.  

One of the reasons it matters so much to have good people around you is because they are there to set you straight when you make a mistake.  It's never really about the mistakes you make, it's more about how you deal with the mistake and handle its repercussions.  That part's hard, sure - but the hardest part is knowing that you made a mistake in the first place.  This is where good friends come in: they care about you enough to call you out on your mistake and then stand by you and help you handle the fallout.  

The reason I've been going over this in my head is because of the field I'm entering.  A field where (a) mistakes happen (although we really wish they wouldn't) and (b) handling those mistakes are so crucial (because lives hang in the balance - sometimes literally).  Often in our ethics class we are asked "If gold rusts, what will iron do?"  As doctors, we'll be held up to very high standards and it's important to practice not-rusting as early as possible.

Obviously, you don't keep good friends around you just so they can call you out on your mistakes.  They are good friends because they do it without you asking or expecting them to do it.  This is why it's important to surround yourselves with wise people that you can also call your friends.  The environment always matters, and it'll continue to matter.

Now of course, you are probably asking yourself "wait, then why do people keep you around?"  Well, wise people need to laugh too.  And I'm one hell of a comic relief.

P.S.: New rule - new blog post every Sunday!  Let's see how long I can keep this up :)