Story by Emily Sadecki
Photo by Bailey Berg
It is in the realm of cat dissections, goggles and human models where Lisa Grulke thrives. She floats from student to student, navigating the world of muscles, blood vessels and organs with ease. Much like the anatomy she teaches at Drake University, her presence is an ever-steady entity, helping students achieve all they desire to accomplish.
Fittingly enough, her favorite Bible story is of Caleb and Joshua, who scout out the Promised Land for Moses.
“They only mention Caleb a few times,” Grulke said. “He was this silent partner,” she said, “Without him, the whole gig would have failed.”
This “silent partner” role is the one that Grulke herself takes on much of the time.
“Over the years, one of the things I have realized about myself is that I am good at making other people shine,” Grulke said.
Her lab assistant, Drake sophomore Keegan Mechels, can attest to that fact.
“She cares so much and is one of the most selfless people I know,” Mechels said.
Her caregiving began in a multigenerational home in the Amana Colonies in Iowa. Under the same roof were her uncle, grandparents, parents, her sister and herself. This built-in support group became crucial when her mother became sick during her teen years and Grulke took on caretaker for her mother.
“My dad and my sister were totally useless human beings around sick people,” Grulke said. “As a kid, I can remember being 12 or 13 and taking my mom into the emergency room.”
Later, she would take on the role of caretaker as a mother instead when the doctors found a tumor in the stomach of her youngest son, Luther, when he was a baby. Handing over her child to the doctors was one of the hardest things she ever had to do, she said.
“It was awful,” she recalled, “Luther taught me that there are things I have to do that are not fun, but it is what I have to do to make him better.”
The years of experience with kidney problems, meningitis, cancer and chronic depression that Grulke faced with her mother and Luther came in handy later as she entered the world of medicine.
Starting out as a registration clerk at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Grulke worked her way to becoming a paramedic. Alongside the doctors and other medical staff, she resuscitated, stabilized, splinted and administered IVs.
Through it all, she remembered the feeling of trusting her loved ones in the hands of others.
“The day I stop looking at them like they are someone’s dad or mom or brother or sister or child is the day I quit,” Grulke said.
Finally, she has found a home in the anatomy lab at Drake, where she spends her time providing assistance in a different way.
Being there for her students when they begin their journey is what Grulke loves most about her job. Many times, people think she is crazy for wanting to teach the beginners.
“In this job, look at all the people I can hopefully set on the right path, or be a part of them getting to that juncture, so to me that is exponential growth,” she said, “I absolutely love what I do, I have a passion for it, and I think it is really important.”
Much like that of Caleb, Grulke’s story has been the foundation for so many others.
“Love it,” she advises her students. “Know that it is where you want to be and dive after it.”