TO THE GIRL WITH A BEAUTIFUL HEART
By Ryan Azarrafiy
As a medical student in the middle of my surgery rotation, I walked to the white board in the operative hall, curious to see the day’s cases. Written on the side of the board in bright yellow marker were the words, “Organ Procurement.” At that point, I had never been part of a transplant. For an aspiring surgeon eager to learn, this was a unique opportunity and I had to see it. I rushed to complete my assigned tasks on the floor and awaited the arrival of the transplant surgeons.
Two teams came towards the day’s end. One group flew in to procure abdominal organs and a separate group of thoracic fellows came from another state – all united at one moment in time at your operating table. I stood in the corner of the operating room as I witnessed the actions of the surgeons; calculated in their decisions, precise in their movements, and driven in their mission. I listened to the operating room chatter as they spoke of you.
“A girl in her twenties,” they said. “Drug overdose. I hear she has a son…”
But, there wasn’t much time to ruminate nor a means for you to answer them. In transplantation, time is everything. And so, the surgeons pressed on. Night had fallen when the two teams were ready to procure the organs. They filled your body with ice to preserve function, made their final cuts, and out the door they went.
“You can scrub in and close the body,” they said to me. “Hope you learned something. Thanks for staying.”
I gowned, gloved, and as I approached the table, I noticed something. They left your heart behind, lying on the scrub technician’s table.
“And what do we do with her heart?” I asked the operative nurse.
“They must not have needed it. You can put it back in her chest and close.”
And so, I held your heart in my hands. With awe and with grief, my hands shook through this experience, so far from normal.
And so, I gave myself away to an ancient scripture of my profession.
Work now and feel later.
And so, my nerves calmed and my hands grew more steady.
I put your heart in place and began to close.
And so, I write to you now, a physician, with both gratitude and guilt.
I was a trespasser to the vessel of your soul.
Your heart was not mine to hold.
While I’ll never know your name, I know that in your last breath, you gave life to a group of strangers in need.
I know that in your last breath, you gave a student the chance to grow. I know that your last heartbeat was filled with enough love to paint a thousand roses red.
And while I’ll never know your story, your smile, or the difficulties you endured, I know you had a beautiful heart. That much is certain.