"Is it alive or dead?"

The following is an excerpt of the upcoming book, "Right Brain Rescue: One Physicians Journey from Burnout to Bliss" due for publication in 2020.  You can sign up for the weekly newsletters at rightbrainrescue.com or drlarasalyer.com to make sure you don't miss any sneak peeks!


“Is it alive or dead?"

I glance around the room to recognize bewilderment in the eyes of my fellow classmates.  125 caffeinated bodies vibrating on their lab stool perches.  (Except Terri, she remained nonplussed, holding pink crystals in her left palm.  Later, I’ll overhear Terri explaining how belly button piercing “permanently severs the ties of your soul to the greater universe.”)

The professor clarifies, "Is the table alive or dead?"

12 years of public school.  4 years of university.  Countless hours studying for the MCAT.  Many of us voluntarily missed parties, trudged across campus for extra office hours with a TA.  We were always conscious of our worth measured in GPA…..all of this.  To get here.  

To answer THIS question? 

“Is this table a-LIVE …or DEAD?” the professor added his final dramatic flair to the words, removing a hand from his pocket to wave it in the air.

The question expanded in the room like awkward fog.  

“Place your hand on the table.  Feel. It,”  he commanded.

As 125 pairs of hands synchronously reached out, four personality types were brilliantly broadcasted:  


The Tri-Hard Gunner —  These students dutifully complied.  Their twitchy hands made full-and-complete-contact with entire palm and all 5 fingers.  Wide eyed, they stared at the professor to assess whether they’re doing it right.   

——Months later, these same hands would be clutching 14 different colored highlighters.


The Purebred —  Sons or daughters of doctors, these students have been raised in the land of medicine.  After-school snacks came from hospital cafeterias, prom pictures were snapped by the radiology suite when dad was on-call.  Unflappable, they touch one finger on the table in forced oppression.  

—Months later, these same hands would be clutching BMW key fobs and lattes.


The #Influencer — Slapping the table to make an #impact, these hands belonged to dreamers on a mission to change the world.   These students waste no time with materialism or frivolity.  Medical school is a means to activate #lifegoals. 

—Months later, these hands would be distributing flyers for the next Organic Farm Fundraiser and Free Community Clinic.


The Empath — Deeply connected with Life, these students caress the table.  Their fingertips explore the edges and texture, memorizing its signature energy.  These students spoke otherworldly languages of aura, chakras and shadows.  

—Months later, these hands would be massaging shoulders or cupping a mug of warm green tea.  


It made no difference who or where.  We came from all walks of life to converged here.  And we agreed the table was very much NOT alive.  

The professor’s bushy eyebrows knit together as he went on to explain the inherent need for osteopathic physicians to palpate the life-force.  The flow.  The heat.  The pulse.  The vibrant aliveness.  Contrast this with the inanimate object in front of us.


“This is ultimately what we seek as physicians:  LIFE.”  He paused emphatically.  Stopping in mid-stride between tables.  

In unison, we nod in solemn agreement.  


He continued his wandering trek, “Your hands are your tools.  Of discernment.  Of healing.  Over these next few years, we will help you grow these abilities.”  At that moment, his khaki pants and navy polo almost transformed into a Jedi cloak.

 “Your training begins today as you carefully respect the life that lies before you in the black bag.”


All oxygen was sucked from the room as 125 pairs of eyes turned to the body bag on each lab table.  The only noise came from the secondhand on the large wall clock.  




“You must remember this body—though inanimate like the table underneath it—was very much alive once.  It had breath, movement, goals, dreams, and a history…and most of all generosity.  As you explore this most thoughtful gift, please remember to honor and appreciate this person.  They are the start of your journey to heal thousands and thousands within your lifetime.”




“This person had a name.  A family.  A purpose.  As you meet your teacher, it’s perfectly normal to have feelings and emotions bubble up.  Please treat your fellow classmates with grace and understanding, as we all have a unique relationship with death….forged by experiences in our past and our culture.  You may now unzip the bag…..”


I glance to my lab partners and no one seemed eager to volunteer for this duty.  So I grasped the zipper and gently pulled……




My eyes squint at cold LED-sustainable-enviro-friendly overhead lights.  I’m lying on my back in a hospital Trauma Bay.  I hear doors slam open and the frantic murmuring of ten strangers swarm my gurney.  The beeping of machines, the ripping of velcro as the blood pressure cuff is placed on my arm.  I'm on my back.  Where am I?


My hands clutch the edges of the gurney and feel warm, wet blood.  My heart is racing, my head is drowning in fear.  


And it occurs to me: the table feels very dead right now.  


But I’m still alive.