My cerebrum doesn’t process what it is upon first blush, but my enteric nervous system doesn’t miss a beat. I already feel the ice-cold ball in the pit of my stomach slowly penetrating outward. The characteristic numbness that accompanies the sight you wish you didn’t see, that thought you wish you didn’t have.

It consists of two ridges running parallel to each other, with a small, slightly differently shaded depression between them. The subtle folds are the most disgusting shade of whitish-yellow: shining examples of the worst case of pallor one could possibly witness. A light putrid shade of purple fills the depression between them. These structures run in circles around the cylindrical structure on which they sit, and of whose flesh they are composed.

My field of vision widens. I appreciate the form of the finger on which I am fixated. In life, responsible for sensing and manipulating the external world, it sits completely stiff, its wrinkles a testimony to past adventures. I try to ignore the fact that it is the third digit from the thumb on the left hand.

I’ve always wondered why one’s wedding band is worn on a particular finger on a particular hand. The prevalence of this custom makes it hard to ignore a most uncomfortable fact: the sickly depression looks to be the shadow of that particular piece of jewelry.

Someone loved the owner of this finger. Someone felt so strongly about this individual that they gave them a symbol, the impression of which persisting after both owner and ring had passed on. This hand was once held dearly. These arms, now splayed wide open, were once locked in an embrace. These eyes, now closed under a damp cloth, once cherished.

My eyes drift from her hand to mine. The glove obscures a living analogous appendage. Perhaps one day my own hand will bear similar lines, sharing a story worth telling. Perhaps someone will hold my hand in a similar way, looking for greater access to my brachial plexus.

I become aware of the noise around me, hundreds of flowing white coats come into focus. Some move from table to table, hoping for a better look at a sought after structure, or somewhat unique anomaly. Others remain motionless except (of course) for their hands. Working with preclinical precision, their scalpel blade gingerly tearing into the flesh before them, they expose our learning objectives for the week. Still others, like myself, stand around either waiting for their turn to work, or attempting to take it all in at once.

I regain control of my attention, and direct it away from the finger on the hand attached to an arm devoid of skin.

But I can’t help but feel touched.

This post has been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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