The biomedical condition
Delivered September 27, 2017 at the Anatomical Donors Memorial Service.
We are born into this world unknown, unknowing; our hands having grasped little beyond a familial finger or two, the soles of our feet having not yet tasted the earth, our heads unsupported with minds unformed. All our lives we must stumble and bumble our way through to discover how the world works and how we work within it. But from the moment dawn’s rosy red fingers interlock with ours that first time, we have with us a condition, a condition that, if you’ll allow me to introduce the word into our lexicon, I call corposis: the condition of having a body. The biomedical condition.
It is a particular subset of our human condition that we in medical disciplines must address every day with the easing of pain, the mending of bones, the tending to wounds. Yet we all experience it. We see through eyes connected to brains concerned with grumbling stomachs and ever-filling bladders: we are biomedically situated. As a member of the Biomedical Engineering faculty here at the University, I see our bodies, our biomedical condition, every day in the problems we solve and the people we serve, and where often our working materials, our clients, and our patients all quite literally share one embodiment, further emphasizing how biomedically situated our bodies are in this world.
Indeed, so fundamental are our bodies to the human experience that few are the days we do not remark upon them. Don’t believe me? Keep an eye out for it: it’s a good rule of thumb, spreads by word of mouth, and I’d say we’re up to our necks in it, our biomedical condition. It’s what keeps our feet on the ground while our heads are in the clouds. It’s with us when we’ve got cold feet and boiling blood, when we’re weak at the knees and the weight of the world’s on our shoulders, when we’re keeping our chins up, our heads down, our fingers crossed, and facing the music. Our biomedical condition ensures that our heart is in the right place, while it goes out to others and while it’s not in it, whether it’s on our sleeves or we’re crying it out, when it’s warmed, when it’s broken, and when it’s heart-to-heart with others, causing us to see eye-to-eye, face-to-face, perhaps hand-in-hand with those we love and know and care about. It is with us always.
And while I say much of that somewhat tongue-in-cheek, our bodies do, in a very real sense, inform the world around us. Beyond just the sensory experience, we need look no further than our hands for the entire basis of our base-10 mathematical understanding of the universe. And even ephemeral cyberspace is not free of our biomedical condition, with a term like “digital” still bearing the paw prints of the mammals that put it there. Our biomedical condition is all pervasive. And so to understand how this world works, it is fundamental that we understand how we work within it. This, put simply, is the mandate of the medical enterprise. We are tasked with knowing how our bodies work, figuring out when they don’t, and having some semblance of plan to fix them when they’re broken. There are many great learned texts out there describing just about every facet of human anatomy and physiology, but words alone do not an education make. Eventually we must translate that flat page to the full world around us. For those of us in the biomedical community, that first patient of ours, that person who led us into the real and present and embodied worlds of anatomy and physiology and who did so unconditionally with no expectation of personal gain, forever holds a special place in our hearts and tonight, I hope we give you some sense of just how special it is. To all of us.
May those gathered here feel assured that your loved one’s gifts are cherished. Though we here today can do little more than applaud their efforts, sing their praises, and tell you from this lectern, at your seats, and in those halls that theirs is a gift to humanity, that they are the best of us, and that each and every person we make better from this day on is a testament not only to the knowledge they gave us but to their kindness, hope, and bravery in teaching us. May we in our deeds pay forward such kindness, eternally spring forth such hope, and meet the world with such bravery as to convince you of our commitment to match their resolve to leave this world a better place. Those able to, while in the sunsets of their lives dream of dawns they’ll never see and yet think to plant seeds for trees whose shade they’ll never know, redefine our human condition, and specifically those who brought us here tonight redefine our biomedical condition in terms of who we ought to be: those who from humble beginnings seek to serve noble ends, those who from lowly origins reach for lofty heights. And as dawns shine on new days, may we say we have known such people and that they have known something of this world true and beautiful and important: that our condition is made better by those who share while they can what they have with who is near.
I thank you and your loved ones for sharing their gifts with our biomedical community and I thank you and your loved ones for granting me the opportunity to express my gratitude for it tonight. May we each in our own ways better our biomedical condition, aspiring to the grace of those who did so unconditionally. Our donors, our patients, our best. Thank you.