Calling to Question: A Reflection on Healthcare Providers’ Perceptions of Life and Death by Tharshika Thangarasa

Tharshika Thangarasa is currently a daughter, sister, friend, amateur artist and third year medical student at the University of Ottawa. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. She has an insatiable hunger for knowledge and a love of trying new things. She hopes to travel more, inspire others and positively influence the lives of many as a future physician. Her poem "Specimen A" appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Intima.

Tharshika Thangarasa is currently a daughter, sister, friend, amateur artist and third year medical student at the University of Ottawa. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. She has an insatiable hunger for knowledge and a love of trying new things. She hopes to travel more, inspire others and positively influence the lives of many as a future physician. Her poem "Specimen A" appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Intima.

Life and death, as blatantly simple as they may seem from a purely physiological standpoint, are rather complex phenomena. Healthcare practitioners witness life and death a countless number of times. They are taught the intricacies of the human body: how to optimize its function and how to declare it deceased. Yet, nothing can prepare even the masters of this trade to face their own demise.

This is touched upon in “DNR” (Amir Adam Tarsha, Intima, Fall 2013), a poem depicting “a healer waiting to die”. It highlights the state of blissful ignorance in which most of us choose to exist. We focus on the trivialities of daily living as opposed to facing philosophical problems that call to question the very purpose of our existence. Perhaps it is true that “we don’t truly understand how to live”, until we, ourselves, are at death’s doorstep.

This idea is also visited in my own poem entitled “Specimen A” (Intima Fall 2017) that describes a medical student, midway through a bell-ringer style anatomy exam, fixated on the cadaveric heart presented to him, oblivious to the person from whom it originated. Maybe this seemingly simplistic view is ingrained in us as a consequence of the way our society is structured. In the case of medical practitioners, perhaps the schooling system itself is designed to trains us to disregard the magnitude of the issues we face daily. Conceivably, it is for the greater good. Would the emotional toll on the provider be too great otherwise?


Tharshika Thangarasa is currently a daughter, sister, friend, amateur artist and third year medical student at the University of Ottawa. She completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. She has an insatiable hunger for knowledge and a love of trying new things. She hopes to travel more, inspire others and positively influence the lives of many as a future physician.

© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine