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Week One...Done

Posted Aug 09 2009 12:00am
I survived my first week of medical school. Only 139 more until I get that degree. Hold on to your seats folks, it's going to be one bumpy ride.

The week went by in a blur and I think the only word that could describe it is overwhelming. The first two days were orientation...oh if only med school could be that relaxed. Mingling with classmates and sitting back as deans and upperclassmen present you every half hour with welcome speeches and personal stories seems so long ago...a fond and distant memory of the good ol' days. Then came day three: four straight hours of anatomy lecture followed by three hours of anatomy lab. Reality struck me like a splash of ice cold water to the face. This is it, medical school is a marathon. Better keep up if you want to survive.

Fortunately I befriended a fellow non-traditionaler on day one, and we bonded over the age difference anxiety. And that bond strengthened when we turned to each other in the middle of our first lecture and said, "What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?" Our professor seemed to be talking at lightning speed in a foreign language, spewing out the occassional bone or muscle reference I actually did know. As the hours ticked by all I could think of was hiding under a blanket, curling up into the fetal position, and never coming out. That and how much of my tuition I could get back and use it toward cooking school...

Next came lab...I thought I had mentally prepared myself for what I was about to witness, but can you ever really know what it's like to be in a room full of cadavers, generous gifts from those who have donated their bodies to science, before it happens? I'd like to think I have a pretty strong stomach when it comes to gore, but as I approached the steel table with cadaver 15 laying under a plastic sheet, I couldn't help thinking that these were once people who had lived, who maybe had family and friends, and that this is what happens in the end. It was the personal that was getting to me. I thought I would have been the strong one in thr group, the one who would handle the scalpel with finesse while my labmates watched in awe of my precision. But I couldn't make the first cut, I didn't want to make the first cut. For me to get past the idea of cutting into a person I had to let someone else de-personalize it. But first, we had to turn the body over so that we could access the back. There I was wondering who this body once was and grabbing a leg to turn the cadaver over. Life is full of odd moments, that for sure was one of them. While my labmates were cutting open the back, I forced myself to start working on the arm, making transverse cuts that would eventually expose the triceps.

I got into medicine because I'm fascinated by the human body's elegant design. Think about all that needs to be done, right down to the cellular level, for us to savor the summer's ripest strawberry or embrace a friend you haven't seen in years. The muscles, the nerves, the intricate network of vessels coursing through the system...the human body is remarkable. And now I get to see it up close and personal. There's only so much you can extract from cartoon diagrams of the body. But when you get to see how everything works together, well it's pretty amazing. And that's what anatomy is, the structure and function of life, or was until I went to rest my hand on the table and looked to see that I was actually holding the cadaver's hand. I remember thinking that his fingernails were well kept, a rather odd thought I know, but it was something that struck me. Perhaps it was a glimmer of this person's life, his well-groomed nails.

I haven't yet talked about the smell. Eau d'anatomy, better known as formaldehyde. It stays with you, creating a chemical haze about you much like the dirt that swirls around Pig Pen. It's a tell-tale sign of anatomy 101, and I've been told that I'll eventually get used to the nauseating smell. Did I mention that lunch is scheduled right before lab?

The week ended with a few hundred pages of reading, fighting the urge to cry when it felt like I know absolutely nothing despite having a bachelor's and a master's degree, and a cadaver holding my hand and reminding me why I'm doing all of this.

One week done, 139 left to go. Here we go...
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