Thursday Born

The everyday life of a medical student (who was born on a Thursday).

The Privilege of Anatomy Lab

with 2 comments

Anatomy lab is a privilege.  Our cadavers are our first patients, and we see more of their bodies than we will probably ever see of any other  human being’s, alive or dead. The only way to repeat this is actually to repeat this. To become an Anatomy Lab Teaching Assistant or teacher.

Some people need to distance their cadaver from the live human being they once were, but I am ever conscious of the fact that ours, (we’ve named him Frank), was once a person, a person who died not too much older than my parents. That what is inside him is an interesting variation of what is inside me and keeping me alive. I made the first incision through his thick, preserved skin. I have cracked one of his ribs. Sawed through his clavicle. Probed through his nerves and lymph nodes to better see his arteries and veins. Layers of skin, fat, connective tissue and muscles have been carefully dissected apart from each other to reveal many major organs: lungs, heart, stomach, liver, gall bladder, and intestines.

What we are doing is illegal in most places other than medical school anatomy labs.  Surgery, let alone exploring a dead body, used to be thought of as a low profession. As I trace the path of Frank’ s gut, I can understand why. No matter how respectfully you try to treat your cadaver, it is hard, essentially impossible, to give them nearly the same regard you give a live person. You simply cannot do to a live person what you do to a cadaver.

Frank made the decision to donate his body to some idea of me and my classmates that he had in his head, and now we are the reality and he is some idea in my head of a generous, older man donating his not-yet-a-cadaver body. I wonder if he knew how much he would see. I wonder if he was aware of what we would see (did he know about the extra adhesions that happen after surgery?).

I greatly value this experience. Anatomy is by far my favorite class and the only thing I wish was different about lab would be being able to shower in the locker room or lab being at the end of the day so I could always head straight home.

I just hope that Frank knew what he was getting into, and that I am doing this all with his consent. Some people would rather learn anatomy second hand, through books and videos, but I am happy that I get to re-discover and touch and see it all.


Written by Aba

September 18, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. hey, i’m a friend of your brother chiefy. anyway, i like this post. i was pre-med for a while before attending law school and had the opportunity to visit an anatomy lab and poke at a dead human being. i had the distinct feeling that what i was doing was disrespectful in some way, and i was really uncomfortable, to the point that i declined to poke any further. it’s nice to hear that although medical students and doctors have access to people in a way that no other human does (even those intimately close with the living version of that person) there is an awareness [at least in you] that this person and their once living humanity is due a great measure of respect and consideration.



    September 25, 2009 at 1:23 am

    • Hi! Thanks for commenting! They definitely stress that we need to treat the cadavers with respect, and they’re also doing their best to try to ensure that we treat our future live patients with respect too (we even have classes on it!).


      September 25, 2009 at 1:31 am

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