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Athena Carver volunteers with homeless outreach in San Francisco, and her favorite client is an old Black man, Doc, who used to practice medicine but now hates the profession. Athena's parents seem to know Doc, but won't talk about him. Doc tells Athena of an episode many years earlier in the Deep South when a young doctor saw his wife murdered by a vicious racist. Soon after, Athena is admitted to Stanford University's School of Medicine, and she decides to follow in her father's and grandfather's footsteps to become a doctor rather than the sculptress she wanted to be. When Athena starts medical school, she finds that the cadaver she's assigned in Anatomy class is Doc. She doesn't tell her professor, thinking that she can tough it out, but soon starts hallucinating that Doc is talking to her. She won't even confide in the teaching assistant Tommy, with whom she's falling in love. Searching for the connection between Doc and her family, Athena asks her grandfather who killed Doc's wife. He shocks her by explaining that it was his wife who was killed; when he left the South to start over near his friend Doc, Doc became so obsessed with the murder that he let his own marriage fall apart, and his wife left him for Athena's grandfather. Athena realizes that Doc is her biological grandfather, and she edges toward a nervous breakdown. The hallucinations become more intense and terrifying, taking over her waking moments as well as her dreams, and she’s in danger of a psychotic break. The intervention of her family, Tommy, and her professor all help Athena get back to reality. Her professor shows her how her artistic skill will help her rebuild disfigured faces, and she finds her calling in medicine. The support of her family and friends lets her lay Doc to rest. She goes on to complete medical school and take the oath as a physician.