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Seeing my first death
  1. Riki Houlden
  1. School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0SP, UK
  1. Correspondence to Riki Houlden, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0SP, UK; rh571{at}cam.ac.uk

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As a medical student, you are exposed to death from day one. I still remember going to get my ID card headshot 5 years ago. We had just had our ‘Welcome to 6 years of medicine!!’ lectures, and we were marched in alphabetical order to get our photos taken. A few students at a time, we walked into a clean, white, windowless room containing little more than 48 stretchers, neatly lined up and covered by white plastic sheets. It was only when I was being told, ‘Smile for the camera!’ that my brain fully processed what was going on. We were in the dissection room, and the dead outnumbered the living by 10:1. I look pretty uncomfortable in that photo.

It is a part of human behaviour that when you are repeatedly exposed to something, you gradually become more accustomed to it, desensitised even. One progresses from the cold, stiff, embalmed cadavers of the dissection theatres to the peacefully sleeping bodies in the morgue. From studying diseases that cause the body to fail, to talking with patients suffering from those very conditions, learning a few days later that they have passed away. But, I …

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