One week in and we are already sprinting. It took about two days to realize that if you didn’t know how to run, you better train your legs quickly, there is no jogging in this lane. To say drinking from a firing hose doesn’t due justice to the explosive amount of information we having pouring down on us. They didn’t waste any time jumping right into the details of artery this, muscle that, nerve this over here, all condensed in one sentence said on an exhale.
Nor did we wait for the infamy of dissecting cadavers.
Day four placed me over a body bag with five other lab mates and a scalpel in my hand. Her postmortem name is Dori. Short for Dolores. Inspired by the Latissimus Dorsi muscle. It is a superficial muscle of the back that wraps from the bottom of the scapula to the ilium crest. I think it looks like a corset holding it all in. And said in a Jane Austin British accent, Latissimus Dorsi sounds like polished ladies name. It seems fitting for Dori, a woman who painted her long fingernails barbie pink. I would like to think she was a fine woman. A woman like my grandmother for whom rules of decorum were not optional habits, but a lifestyle; one, at that, to be strictly inherited by younger generations. She would be the one to check for dirt under your fingernails and then offer you tea and triangle shaped sandwiches.
The process of dissecting another human body is an odd one. I have surprised myself with how unemotional of a process it has been. (Even more so by how meditative I find the slow focused process of cutting, probing, and clearing. While I pray I do not end up a surgeon, I can grudgingly admit to the appeal of practicing surgery; it is like a more practical form of jewelry making!) But then again, it is something I have thought about for a while, knowing my turn would eventually come. I’ve read, reflected, seen skits by other medical students about experiences in anatomy lab. These, for the most part, seem to have desensitized me.
But there are moments nothing can prepare you for.
Like carefully cutting away thin layers of fat on the cheek, concentrating so hard only to realize your nose has lowered just inches above her’s. Or when you are clearing the tissue from the back of the spine so you can saw it open and you think about how the chunks or muscle look like the shredded meat of your favorite tacos. Suddenly your sacred Mexican food is a bit less appealing.
One day the lab group is hovering over Dori. Our heads together as we poke and prod to identify muscles with their blood supply and innervations. Suddenly somebody let out a stifled scream. I looked frantically for something wrong with our work only to realize they were no longer looking down but at the counter behind us. A small cockroach was taking a stroll across our lab books. We began to freak out, arguing who would have to kill it. I couldn’t help but start to laugh. Here we were standing over a dead body with gloves soaked in formaldehyde and human excrements, clutching onto scalpels, scissors, and hammers, and what terrified us was not the body we were gutting apart but an inch long insect out of for a walk.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me.