Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Body of Work" by Christine Montross

This is not a book I would normally buy at the bookstore. I'm not even sure it would catch my attention.The full title is Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab. But a friend loaned it to me and I read it on their recommendation. It was fascinating. It's basically a memoir of a medical student as she dissects a human cadaver as part of her training. Along the way, she develops a strange connection to the dead body, wondering what the individual was like when she was alive, what was her family like, what led her to donate her body to be used in such a way, how would they feel about her being treated the way she is now as a medical specimen, and so forth. Interspersed with her narrative about her lab experiences are comments about the history of cadavers and the study of anatomy. Prior to entering med school, the author had already earned a masters of fine arts in poetry. Her lyrical prose turns what could be a repulsive (to some) task into a beautiful, well-crafted, and respectful account of her experiences.

As a pastor, there was one section which I particularly related to. Montross relates her struggle with being compassionate and caring, yet not becoming too emotionally involved with her patients during her training. That's always a fine line for us pastors, too. I remember that not long after my father died, it was difficult to visit people in the hospital, especially ones who were dying. Often I would have to fight back tears. Did that make me more human and easy for people to relate to? I don't know. Perhaps. Yet I hope that at the same time I was able to bring them hope, comfort, and strength from God's Word in the midst of their crisis. I suppose it's a lot like a doctor trying to balance a professional attitude with the compassion that comes along with being in the healing arts ... although in my "profession," it's the healing of the soul, not only the body.

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