ANATOMY OF THE TRUTH
JET ARRIVED AT THE AUDITORIUM early and took a seat halfway back, only slightly surprised that he wasn’t the first one there. He figured the others were there to get the best seat or hoping to impress an equally punctual professor. Jet was there because he wanted to watch, to size up the other members of the class.
He was not intimidated by the prospect of beginning medical school. Apprehensive, perhaps—how could a normal person not be? But not intimidated. In college, Jet had seldom met a fellow student of intellect comparable to his, but he had no way to know what to expect from the 106 students matriculating into the Jackson University School of Medicine. He had to assume that, like him, each had graduated college near the top of the class, with exemplary MCAT scores. And he knew that medical school could be cutthroat. Not just a challenge to absorb an exorbitant amount of material in a short time, often likened to attempting to sip water from a fire hydrant, but also a race to the finish line four years away. A competition for class rank and favor from professors in order to one day be admitted to the best post-graduate residency training programs.
"Let the competition begin!” A voice rang out as if reading Jet’s mind. A tall, broad-shouldered man made the proclamation as he sauntered down the aisle past Jet. He scanned the room to confirm he had been heard by all present before giving a smug smile and taking a seat on the second row.
“Sterling Virchow.” Someone tapped Jet on his shoulder from behind. He turned to see a striking redhead nodding over his shoulder toward the man named Sterling. Her green eyes were narrowed and scornful.
“Pompous jerk. Steer clear of him if you can. Haven’t seen him in a few years. He went to Dartmouth, I think, but we went to high school together.”
Jet smiled and extended his hand as he introduced himself. “Well, I’m glad to know somebody who at least knows somebody. I went to Vanderbilt, and I doubt I’ll know anyone in the class.”
“Gracie Tollison.” Her grip was firm but not aggressive. Confident without pretense. “Hey, I bet we’ll be in the same Gross Anatomy group.” She smiled, proud of her deduction.
Jet had no idea how she knew that, and his expression must have betrayed his lack of understanding. Before he could fully utter his “Huh?” she interjected.
“Townsend and Tollison. Our names both start with T. They always group you alphabetically for Gross. I suppose we could fall into different groups, but I doubt it, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “If you say so.” He turned back to see the action. Students were pouring into the auditorium now. Sterling Virchow knew many by name, calling out to them like a one-man welcoming committee. Jet twisted back around in his seat toward Gracie. “How does he know so many folks?”
She picked up her backpack and stepped over the back of the seat in front of her, dropping nimbly into the seat next to Jet. “His father. Stuart Virchow. Professor of Surgery and a Vice-Chancellor, or something. I think he’s on the Medical School Admissions Committee, too. They’re quite the pair. Pompous One and Pompous Two, if you ask me.”
Jet chuckled. “Well, don’t hold back. Tell me how you really feel.”
She patted his arm. “Don’t you worry, honey, I will.”
Within minutes, the room had filled with other students. Jet watched quietly while his newfound friend identified those she knew and guessed at the life story of those she didn’t. Jet stole glances at her while she remained preoccupied with her survey of the room and its occupants. Average build, scattered freckles, round cheeks, the slightest hints of dimples just below the corners of her mouth that appeared and disappeared as she talked.
The room grew quiet as a rotund, bearded man with round glasses stepped onto the low stage and tapped the microphone. The top button on his white lab coat strained to keep his belly from bursting forth. Jet was afraid if the man laughed or coughed the button might pop off and take out someone’s eye. He didn’t know Sterling Virchow but secretly hoped it might hit him.
“As some of you know,” the man spoke in a deep baritone that resonated even more through the microphone, “I am Dr. Sylvester Cronin, Chairman of the Department of Anatomy. Many of you probably expected a welcome from Dr. Virchow, the man who oversaw your selection for this class, or Dr. Turing, the Dean of the School of Medicine. You’ll hear from them and several others in a moment. But first, you get me. Why? Because I insisted. Because I am the person who, more than any other human being or god in the universe, stands between you and becoming a second-year medical student. Shortly, you will go upstairs, pull back the sheet on your cadaver, and begin your odyssey through Gross Anatomy. Get ready for the ride of your life. We will not slow down, and we will stop for no one. It will be the most miserable, exhilarating, beautiful, dark, frustrating, and rewarding thing you’ve ever done. And that’s if you pass it. If you don’t, it will be the most disappointing failure of your life. That is, of course, if you care as much as you should. If you don’t, then I didn’t want you in my medical school anyway.”
Professor Cronin paused and strummed his plump fingers together across his ample belly. Jet watched the button, afraid that a misplaced tap might cause it to blow. “Before we go any further, let me say one thing about the most important contributor to your entire medical career. Look around the room and guess who it may be.” Most of the students glanced around the room with uncertainty. “Don’t see him or her? That’s right, you don’t, because that person is dead. That person is lying in a tank of formaldehyde right now up on the sixth floor, waiting on you and your clumsy lab partners to destroy the flesh that held their souls for their short time on this earth. Remember, they each gave themselves to you, so give them the respect they deserve in return. Anything less will be an injustice. Now, unlike me, you will never know their stories, how they lived or how they died. Yet you should treat them with the dignity you would give a family member. Because you have an opportunity for a part of them to live on and even save lives one day through you. What you learn over the next year through your interaction with them will shape your entire career. Make it count.”
The professor clapped his hands together and paused, scanning the crowd, eyeing each individual student for a millisecond before continuing in a low rumble that crescendoed to a thundering boom by the finish. “Now, let me tell you this. Unless you cheated your way to get here—and I promise I’ll find you if you did—you are all sufficiently intelligent to pass Gross Anatomy. What will determine whether or not you pass is your intestinal fortitude. Your grit, as I like to call it. You either have it, or you don’t. If you’re not sure where yours is, then by God in heaven you better dig deep and find it quickly. Get ready for Gross Anatomy. You will never forget it.”