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?