My First Patient

StudentSpeak is pleased to present a guest post by radiation therapy student Annie Mae Jensen. This post is adapted from Annie’s remarks at the 2015 Donor Memorial Service, which honors the anatomical donors and their families who support OHSU students through a gift to the Body Donation Program.

Team Mildred Ruth, a.k.a. Ruthie! We’ve learned so much from you. Thank you for your beautiful gift! We may never know who you really were, but you will forever be our “First Patient.”

Dr. Cameron started the term with our entire class in a lecture hall, where he explained to us what a beautiful gift we had waiting in the next room. He cautioned that it was an amazing thing that these individuals wanted to support education even after death, however it might be difficult to meet our donors for the first time. He also cautioned that many students are affected more than they expect, and to extend respect to our donors, as well as our fellow classmates as they coped with meeting their first patient.

I was determined to not be “that girl” – I heard his words and I took it more as a challenge, blindly, to not let this meeting affect me. I didn’t want to appear weak in front of my peers, so I tried to suppress my emotions and empathy, which was, for me, very out of character.

We were assigned to inter-professional groups; each student in my group was a new face to me: one physician assistant student, two dental students, and myself, a future radiation therapist. My group was designated “7B.” I wanted to avoid appearing unprofessional to these new acquaintances, and it relieved me not to know the name or story of the donor I was assigned. We all stood together around our donor and introduced ourselves, and I jokingly said we were the Lucky Team #7! We all smiled and started to leave the room, but I felt compelled to stay behind for just a bit and whisper to my donor, “Thank you for your gift.”

The next day was not any easier as we started our study. I had pep-talked myself all morning that I could do this, and when I got into the Donor Lab, I was the brave person in the group to start. After that, (sigh of relief), the day went easier…until I got home. That night I was a mess, crying over what I had done. Because I had neglected to allow myself to feel for this person in order to save face, it caught up with me and overwhelmed me in the end. At that point to help me cope, I decided to name my donor. I felt she deserved to be “someone” to us, someone more than “our donor.” I started calling her Mildred, and it caught on with the rest of the team.

My group grew very close over the course of the term; we even started to study with our counterparts, group 7A, a group that shared our donor. That’s when I found out they too had selected a name for our donor. They were calling her by the name of “Ruth.” I loved it – we combined the names and our donor became Mildred Ruth, “Ruthie” for short – because honestly, you would want to go by that over Mildred any day (apologies for any Mildreds reading this). Slowly, we began calling ourselves “Team Ruthie.”

She taught us so much: I understand so many things I had only seen before in books and could never fully grasp until now. It was her brave gift that did this. I may never know which one of these amazing individuals we are celebrating today was my Ruthie, or even be able to call her by her real name, but I think the most important message she got through to me is that you can’t take your heart and emotions out of medicine. Those are what brought me into medicine and what got me, and will continue to get me, through my degree and practice.

Team Ruthie still meets up for lunch to catch up whenever we can, and in the end I was right, we were the Lucky Table #7, because we had the amazing chance to learn from the lovely Miss Ruthie.

One response to “My First Patient

  1. Thank you for sharing. It has warmed my heart to understand and know how respectful Team Ruthie was towards this very generous woman.

Comments are closed.