anatomical position

24 Sep

On Monday, we had our first anatomy lab.  It seemed so…well…premature.  I mean, I’ve been in med school for a little over a month, I ordered my latex gloves, picked up a pair of scrubs, watched a short instructional video on how to attach and remove scalpel blades without cutting my fingers off,  and now I’m standing in front of a body about to make my first incision…and no one’s stopping me, or leaning over my shoulder giving me instructions.

And I’m shocked, and a little appalled, by how easy it feels, both physically and emotionally.  The blade pierces through the first layer or skin and fascia so effortlessly.  And I feel no discomfort.  I’m standing at the L1 position (the left side, upper truck area of the cadaver) and, as my hands become accustomed to the initially awkward position of the scalpel and the forceps, this first skinning process begins to feel natural…unnervingly so.

Our cadaver (he is not yet named) is a 78-year-old male.  He died on August 20, 2009 of coronary heart disease.  He is tall, relatively fit looking, with some fat about the mid-section, but nothing outstanding.  He has some synthetic material located in his lower-right side from a hernia repair.  We discovered another inguinal hernia that had yet to be repaired.

As I peal back the layers of pectoral and intercostal muscles, run my fingers across bones, blood vessels, glands, and nerves, I am learning so much from him, so much more than any lecture, book, or flashcard.  What a gift.  Thank you.

I still cannot help but feel like my aloofness toward this process is somewhat monstrous.  Why don’t I feel more?  At the end of day two in the lab, Nathalie and I chose to stay a few extra minutes in order to see his face.  I don’t know what I expected, but the unveiling revealed nothing extraordinary.  He has a gentle face and a buzzed haircut.  Still, I feel like I know him a little better now, I know who I’m cutting, and I can show my respect for a human, not just a body.

Back to day one, Monday: Kathleen was in town, and I had five wonderful hours with her in the evening.  She treated me to a luxurious pedicure, and then we took our freshly-pampered selves to yoga at the studio around the corner from my apartment.  After the half-marathon and anatomy, I appreciated even more this opportunity to treat my body well, and do so with one of my best girlfriends.  As we lay in final savasana following 90 minutes of vinyasa, my mind wondered back to anatomy lab…where my cadaver lay stiff in a very similar position.  If four medical students were to open up my midsection and begin the dissection process, what would they find?  What mysteries does my body hold?

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5 Responses to “anatomical position”

  1. Katie (Smith) September 24, 2010 at 2:15 pm #

    Hi, Anna! Love reading what you’re up to in Philadelphia but haven’t had occasion to comment until now. My grandfather, who was a professor at Jefferson in your current city for 50 some odd years, gave his body to science after he died. I often wonder about the medical students who were the last to learn from him.

    Also, if you felt more, you’d probably go crazy!

    • annaojesus September 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

      Hi Katie,

      Thank you for the post. Your grandfather sounds like an incredible man–50 years of service and then the donation of his body. I’m not sure it would be possible to give more to education. Thank you for telling me.

      And thank you for the reassurement. I wonder how things will change in the next several months.

      Any news on your career front? Miss you lots!

  2. Kristen September 25, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

    Anna, I don’t think I’ve commented yet, but I LOVE being able to read your updates from med school. Makes me feel slightly closer to you, you amazing lady.

    This post reminded me of my first day of school a few weeks ago. I had written all my students a personal letter introducing myself, and one student wanted to know what Peace Corps was. She pronounced it Peace CorpS(e), and after I’d explained what that was all about, my co-teacher used it as a teachable moment around pronunciation. I pointed out that if you add the -e at the end, you do in fact get corpSe, which has a very different meaning… Now, I have 10th graders who are reading on the 3rd grade reading level, but when I asked if anyone knew what a corpse was, one girl piped right up: “It’s a CADAVER.” & she just said it in the most “duh!” voice ever. Cracked me up.

    In other news, Horace and Judith are staying in my apartment tonight and I’m overjoyed to have such loveliness under my roof. Miss you loads. Maybe I could come visit you over a long weekend later this fall?

  3. Jim O September 28, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    I recall watching a show a couple million years ago where med students are about to be introduced to their first cadavers.

    “One of the subjects you will encounter today was in life a dear friend of mine. I will not tell you which one. I expect each of you to show the respect to your subject as if it were my friend.”

    I like your attitude.

    • annaojesus September 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

      Whoa! That’s pretty brilliant–I like that quote a lot, thank you for sharing it!

      And thank you for your kind comment, Uncle Jim. Miss you!

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