I held a human brain. I cradled it in cupped hands. It was lighter than I thought it would be, more stiff than I thought it would be. It was a mass of intelligently designed neural tissue that no longer fired with ideas, memories, thoughts. In my hands I held darkness, a light bulb burned out, its filaments no longer connected. It was cold. It defined death.
As we slowly explored our patient’s body we learned from him what was not normal. An enlarged heart with barely any coronary arteries left, beating with the help of a pacemaker. A liver that spanned so wide it almost touched his left side. Cysts consuming his kidneys. Plaque accumulating in his arteries, waiting to dislodge and wreck havoc. A delicately crafted glass replica of an eye-his eye. All of these ticked boxes in medical literature of possible causes of death, common mechanisms of death. Heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure, maybe a pulmonary embolism.
My first patient died from blunt head trauma. A complete accident. It was a blow that rattled his brain in his cranium, tore some venous sinuses, slowly bleeding out into a crescent shaped subdural hemorrhage. He probably didn’t even know it until his brain couldn’t function pressed up against a waxing crescent, eventually flickering out. Despite the enlarged heart, the pacemaker, the liver, the kidneys, the stiffened arteries he was fighting through every day, for years, death found him within hours. That concept, the inevitably of death despite knowledge, despite technology, despite intervention, despite medicine, has not left me since.
Wherever you are, death will find you out, even if you are in towers built up strong and high. [4:78]