Posts Tagged ‘Illinois Anatomical Gift Association
[Click above to embiggen: I finally found a way to go to medical school for free…and also not have to study for anything!]
Because we are friends like this, and it is Halloween season, I feel that I can put an idea out there to you that is strange and something that most people never want to talk about. But I’m sharing it because it’s something I decided to do for myself that has given me a lot of comfort and peace. Get ready for the strangest question I’ve ever asked you: Have you thought about donating your body to medical science after you pass away?
Odds are, that’s the only time you’ve been asked this today. Or this week. Or ever. I’ve actually been circling this decision myself for a good five years, ever since I read a book by Mary Roach called Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. A friend of mine gave me the book, which is what made her start thinking about donating her own remains to medical science. I never stopped thinking about the idea, though I struggled with it.
I finally pulled the trigger and completed the paperwork from the Illinois Anatomical Gift Association this week…and now I’m going to medical school at some point in the future (after I’m dead). I always wanted to go to medical school but could never afford it…and now I get to go for free, on a wild adventure once my heart stops.
I remember when I was a kid how people would get super uncomfortable if someone talked about being cremated, because I grew up not all that long after Vatican-II and most people I knew still were horrified by the idea of cremation instead of burial. But, then Catholics were allowed to start being cremated and I think a few years ago the numbers shifted and cremations now outnumber casket burials in cemeteries. Almost nobody donates their body to medical science though…because that’s still a horrifying concept to the majority of people. It was super creepy for me too, which is why it took me five years to get to where I am today.
I turned 40 this summer and I started thinking about what I want to happen to what’s left of me when I pass away. A few years ago, I had a big scare where I came really close to being wiped out by a semi that skidded across the road and crossed over the median on the highway. It came so close and just missed our car by inches. I could feel the car actually get pulled by the vacuum created by the semi barreling just behind us. I really thought it was going to plow into us and kill everyone in the car. If it had hit us, for sure everything would have been all over…and I of course, not yet 40, hadn’t made any arrangements or set down anything in writing saying what I’d want to happen next. I think that was the last kick I needed towards making my postmortem medical school attendance decision.
In Illinois, there are not enough donated bodies for all the medical schools here to have what they need for their classes. The Illinois Anatomical Gift Association (IAGA) is a clearing house that handles all the arrangements and then delivers the donated remains to the medical schools. You can specify where you want to go, but they can’t guarantee that’s where you will be sent (though the people there who I talked to said that in most cases they can honor the request). I want to go to Northwestern, with my second choice being the University of Chicago. And I never have to take the MCAT!
I’ve had this weird sense of peace and purpose since I completed the IAGA paperwork and mailed it off. I feel like I’ve booked a trip that I’m going to go on, whether I’m conscious for it or not. Doing this has arranged a strange adventure for me that most people never take, where after I’m dead instead of being locked in a casket and buried in the ground or burned to ash right away, here I will be headed off to medical school…where I will spend the next two years or so being the subject studied by physicians in training. Schools have tried getting by using plastic models and 3D computer programs, but it’s not the same as the real thing for gross anatomy class. Doctors really do need to learn from real bodies to be able to help their future patients. It’s just that not many people want to donate their remains.
After the school has finished and it can no longer use a body, the IAGA arranges for the cremation. That’s what I wanted to happen to me anyway…so instead of being cremated immediately after death, by donating my body to a medical school I’ve just put that part off a bit. In that way, I hope my being there at the medical school is doing some good that wouldn’t have been done if I hadn’t donated to the IAGA.
I feel like I’m in a great position to do this, as a single gay guy who doesn’t have a family. I have tons of friends and people who care about me, but all of them think it’s just like me to want to go to medical school after I’m dead…which means I have no one who will be upset by this decision in any way. I let everyone I see on a regular basis know about what I’ve decided and I have the IAGA paperwork filed with all my other important papers in my Emergency file. I hope none of this will matter for many, many years…but I feel such relief that it’s all taken care of now.
As a writer, I like to have an ending in mind for things…something for the story to build towards. There are endless question marks and blank chapters between now and the end of my life…but I feel like I’ve written my epilogue and filed that part away. Someday I’ll die. And then I’ll go to medical school. After that, I’ll be cremated and I’d like my ashes to be scattered somewhere in Cleveland. To complete the circle and take me back to where I was from.
Now that this is all written down and planned for, it’s just up to me to knock those blank chapters out of the park and make them as rockstar awesome as I possibly can. I’m so proud of the first book that Megan Fox and I wrote…the first in a series of these real-life political mystery/adventures. We have another one coming out in November or December, with more lined up in 2017. These last few years, I have been working hard on dozens of local projects off the radar, digging deep into the corruption in Chicagoland. I’m the happiest I have ever been in life, actually investigating mysteries and solving problems (like in all the mystery-solving shows I loved as a kid). I managed to find a way to be a citizen sleuth and amateur detective in real life…and solve mysteries with a collection of oddballs and characters and great friends. I never dreamed anything like this could be possible and I’m so looking forward to having a whole shelf full of these mystery books for you to read.
I’m really happy at 40, even if I’m single again. I really thought Justin was the one and that we’d be together for always, but he’s chosen a different path and I had to let him go. Cue Whitney Houston in Bodyguard, because you know she’s the soundtrack to my life. Now that it’s just me again (as opposed to me-and-Justin), I like having my epilogue written and a plan put in place. For some reason, there’s immense comfort in that for me.
I also like the idea of being able to do some good for the world, even after my soul is gone. I like that my thoughts will live on in my books and other writing and my body will be used to teach future doctors…so what they learn can help people I’ll never have the chance to meet.
Halloween is this season of spooky and creepy things, but I’ve found this creative way to take all the spookiness and creepiness and sadness out of death for myself. And I love that the body donation gambit saves a ton of money, too! The IAGA cremates the remains for free when the medical school is done…and they’ll send them to whoever they need to be sent to. There’s no cost to donate my body and the only fee that will have to be paid is a nominal one to a funeral home to take the body to the IAGA after my death. So, instead of a $7,000 or $8,000 funeral (or however expensive one of those old-fashioned suckers will be in the future when I’ll need one), my Epilogue will run $200 to $300 tops. There’s nothing I love more than a deal.
Each state is different, so if you’d like to think about donating your body to medical science in the future as well, you should look for an equivalent of the Illinois Anatomical Gift Association where you live. I know this is such a sensitive and strange topic…but at Halloween people are, I think, as tuned-into death as they ever are at any point of the year. Walking down the street, there are tombstones and skulls on people’s lawns right now, so talking about a unique approach to death and Epilogue is as appropriate as it ever can be, I think.
Many years ago, a friend of mine who had signed herself up with the IAGA told me about her decision…and that’s what planted the seed for me to look into all this as an option for myself. If not for her, I would have never begun the process that led me to a decision of my own that I am very happy with. So I felt compelled to put this idea out there for others who may have never considered donating themselves to medical science when the time comes. Maybe you’ll want to join me in medical school someday. We’ll get to go for free. We’ll never have to take any tests. No studying is required. And you can pretty much just lie there doing not much of anything and you won’t get kicked out. It’s a hell of a deal.
For more information on the Illinois Anatomical Gift Association, check out their website.
For a really fascinating read, Mary Roach’s book Stiff is a great one for Halloweentime.