Monday, November 26, 2012

Penultimate Anatomy Lab and Human Dignity

It's been a long time since I've been in the anatomy lab for the peer teaching program I took up last year. (I was off by my request in September because I knew that Cardio was an intense block and that I had a big MedSFL event then; my October lab was cancelled due to a campus emergency/evacuation.) I went in last week for the dissection of the triangles of the neck (this is the front and sides of the neck). It was a remarkable experience for several reasons.

We had our first test of the Renal block the next day. I had studied enough beforehand to avoid feeling super stressed, but it was still a sacrifice. According to my M1 roommate, this M1 class is surprisingly petty about exam grades, so I was glad that I could give them an example of "chill out, it's just a test, and people are more important."


This is the first lab that exposes the head and neck. For four months, the face has been wrapped in several layers of white gauze for two purposes: to preserve the delicate structures of the head and neck for the entire semester, and to make dissection of the rest of the body easier. Although dissection of the facial muscles is not done at my school, it is necessary to uncover the face (if not when the neck is dissected, then later, when the sinuses, pharynx, and larynx are dissected).

I chose to be in lab during this dissection so that I could be with those who uncovered their cadavers' faces. I remember last year at this time, that one of the more sensitive members of my tank (another Catholic, a future pediatric oncologist, an honest person not afraid to seem silly) asked for a moment to prepare before we removed the covering from the face. But another tankmate didn't hear the request and quickly flipped off the covering. I had also needed some preparation, and wanted to guarantee (as far as is in my power) that time to any M1s who needed it this year.


The rest of the cadavers (that is, everything from the neck down) are not used for the remainder of the semester; thus, every body needs to be covered and cared for (kept moist) to respect the bodies' dignity. I was proudly and happily doing this even before the course director announced it from the head of the room at the beginning of the dissecting time. It is a beautiful duty.

I carefully arranged the parts of each body I could. (To see everything that a medical student needs to, it is necessary to remove one of the legs; in addition, because large incisions like the abdominal one and the ones across the back don't heal, flaps can often be bent awry and organs can fall out of their proper place). Then, I pulled the white towel over it. It was like pulling blankets over sleeping persons: there is a certain comfort and conclusion in it. And just as giving comfort to living persons often comforts me, imparting dignity to these bodies raised me up to a new calm. I felt almost queenly. (You might say this is because I'm an M2 among M1s, but I don't think that quite captures it.) It was as if I could look into the face of a test or an opponent and say, "How could you upset me? Love outlasts death."

Later in the lab period, I carried around a few bottles of formalin to keep the bodies moist during the dissection. I went up to one tank at a time (until the course director told me to go study for my Renal test), pouring the fluid over the towels so that the body beneath would stay moist. Wetting the towels is a pretty menial task, one that all the M1s are supposed to do before they close their tanks each time they come in. It's analogous to wiping down a basic science bench. I thought it would provide a good example of humility and remind everyone that bodies are not benches.


Finally, this lab was unique because I stumbled upon an M1 I'd just recently met at a MedSFL event. She is a secular humanist and was very articulately opposed to pretty much everything I hold. We got into conversation, but that will have to wait for another post.

No comments:

Post a Comment