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Tales from Anatomy Part 2

As you may have noticed, it’s been awhile. There are lots of good reasons for not writing posts while in anatomy, and I am here to share them. Actually, I think I am doing pretty good at maintaining a normal lifestyle during the first half of this block. I have several classmates that live in the lab, study constantly, know everything, and are thoroughly miserable. I have studied a little, read a book for fun, and enjoyed myself for the last three weeks or so. My grades for the first exam have yet to be posted, so I don’t know how well this strategy has paid off.

Speaking of tests, we took a whopper of a test on Monday. It was the first half (AKA the top half) of anatomy in a giant afternoon of testing. Not only did we take a standard multiple choice test, we also took a practical test in the lab (identifying tagged structures on cadavers and organs) and a slide exam in a lecture hall (identifying structures from images projected on the front of the room). The written test was par for the course, since we have all taken a bazillion of those. The other formats were more difficult for me. First of all, they weren’t multiple choice. We had to think of the answer all by ourselves (and spelling also counted). Second, they moved at an amazingly slow pace. Ninety seconds per question is way more than enough time to either figure out the answer or realize that you don’t know the answer. I take tests quickly, and being forced to wait 82 seconds before I can go to the next question just drives me crazy.

As far as the course itself, I actually like it a lot. Dissecting is difficult and tedious and lots of work, but at the end of the day it is infinitely cooler than sitting in a lecture hall listening to metabolism lectures all day. The coolest part is being able to see all of the anatomy in three dimensions, oriented in an actual body, and begin to put all of the pieces together mentally. Anatomy can’t be learned by listening to a PowerPoint lecture of a muscle group, it has to be learned directly, seeing the muscles, tendons, and nerves together.

Dissecting takes a lot of time out of your day, and I think it makes us students confront our own humanity in a certain way. While we cut through organs, vessels, muscle, and tissue, the thought is constantly in the back of your mind that these same muscles and nerves were part of a person who loved, dreamed, hoped, and lived a full life. This person left behind a family and friends, but they thought ahead and left part of the stuff that made them human behind for us to take apart and look at first hand. That makes anatomy class a privilege, and it encourages me to make the most of my time in lab, so that I can take the most of this opportunity to learn.

The pace can be overwhelming. Most of the time we have no idea where we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to be doing (the “remodeling” of our course has left it a little short on directions). All things considered, it’s a pretty good time. It is interesting the division of labor among group members. With only three members per group, there is much to do and often too many hands. When we dissected the heart, for instance, only one person could work on it at a time. I have one lab partner who was an anatomy TA at his undergrad, so he is knowledgeable and talented in dissection. My other partner has never taken anatomy, and usually asks very basic questions like “Which one is the spleen?” I’m somewhere in between those two extremes. I can almost always tell when I’m looking at a spleen. So me and my awesome lab partner do most of the dissecting, while the not so helpful partner does the accounting to make sure we find everything and makes tags to place on the structures we identify. Most of us aren’t squeamish, but there are two kinds of people in anatomy lab. On chest day, we got to use a saw to cut through the ribs and get into the thorax. One kind of med student wants to use the saw, the other kind of med student plugs it in and hands it to me (or whoever wants to use it).

That’s all for tonight! Thanks for reading. As always, feel free to comment below or email me at sortadrwordpress@gmail.com


All That Glitters

So this is definitely the final stretch before my first year of medical school starts. Four weeks from today, in fact, I will be starting orientation week. I have so much to do during these few weeks that they will likely go by extremely quickly, and I will look around to find myself in the middle of medical school.

Possibly my grades after the first exams. We will see.

I have two more weeks of work, then a weekend of call, and then two weeks “off” while I attempt to get my wife and I moved several hundred miles into a new house before school starts. The first weeks of school should yield lots of posts on this blog, as my wife will continue working at her current job for a few weeks after medical school starts, leaving me all by my lonesome.

I read far more than I write, and I write considerably more than most of my generation. Heck, I regularly exceed 140 characters when I post my thoughts to the internet, and I rarely abbreviate. Since I read often and quite rapidly, I spend a fair amount of time on Amazon or browsing book stores for something interesting and different.

NOTE: I read Jim Gaffigan’s new book last weekend, and it was incredibly funny. It is probably best read in short segments, but the in-laws were shopping last weekend so I had several hours to kill in a local mall. I laughed out loud so many times the guy next to me at Barnes and Noble probably thought I was losing it.

Like I was saying, I spend a fair amount of time browsing for new books. I am certainly guilty of glancing at a book and immediately making assumptions about it based on its appearance. I am sure that I have passed some very interesting reads simply because the appearance of the book was not what I was expecting or wishing it to be.

Everyone knows the saying “Never judge a book by its cover”, but the truth it teaches is worthy of illustrating to show some of the things I have learned over the past few days.

Right now I am re-reading the Lord of the Rings. I have made it a tradition to re-read the Chronicles of Narnia each Christmas and the Lord of the Rings in the summer, enjoying the familiar flow and cadence of each story, reacquainting myself with favorite characters as old friends. This particular copy of Tolkien that I am reading is the exact opposite of the story contained within. Grey, paperback, and largely featureless on the cover, the backdrop shows the Misty Mountains in poor focus behind a prominently displayed title. My book shows plenty of wear, between the bent corners and curved spine. Those that have read the story know that the tale told inside is of epic proportions, detailed, polished, and assembled over the course of decades by one of the most masterful authors of the 20th century. If I saw my book on the shelf in Barnes and Noble, I might very well keep walking. Maybe this is a bad example, because everyone and their mom has seen Lord of the Rings. Let me put in a huge picture to make up for my lack of pictures so far.

The three really long movies. Surely not everyone slept through them….

There. That should be huge enough.


That same idea (not judging by appearances) is a key theme throughout the story. The appearance of a character is inversely proportional to the role they play in the story. Aragorn appears to be a dirty Ranger from the wilderness, but is in fact heir to the throne of Gondor and descended from a line of noble kings. Gandalf is a pivotal character in the story, counselling, fighting, encouraging, and rallying against Mordor, yet he is called Gandalf the Grey. The color grey itself implies vagueness and ambiguity, and for much of the story Gandalf does nothing to dispel the illusion of himself as a wanderer. Even Frodo, who by his resilience is finally able to bear the ring to its destruction at Mount Doom, is by all outward appearances useless in the fight. As a hobbit, he is small, weak, and totally unprepared for combat and violence after an idyllic upbringing in the Shire.

The opposite holds true as well. Denethor is Steward of Gondor, the leader who should be at the forefront of containing the evil of Mordor. Instead he does nothing, even squanders the resources at his disposal. Elrond and Galadriel, wise and powerful Elven rulers, do little more than offer shelter and counsel during the journey and climax of the story.

Given the pace of our lives today, it is our nature to make quick decisions and rapid judgement. Our actions weave a web of cause and effect that last far longer than the instant that it took to make those decisions. I am better at this than most, often picking meals from a menu in seconds (although that may also be because I mostly eat hamburgers. Bad example, sorry)

Pretty much the parts of the menu I can see

Pretty much the parts of the menu I can see


To put it another way, I am often quick to make assumptions on people based off recent status updates, despite knowing next to nothing about their lives. I don’t know what it is for you…maybe someone is bigger or smaller than you. Maybe they are better dressed, or more poorly dressed. Maybe they live their lives a way that you don’t necessarily understand (ahem, people who don’t eat at Chick-fil-A!) I do no one any favors by sorting through that new information in an instant.

To summarize before you go to sleep: I am hoping to find places and people with which I am not familiar, and spend enough time learning from them and about them that I am not doing them an injustice by an incorrect first impression.

Now I hope to spend a little longer before settling a matter in my mind. I want to give more than passing thought to what is subtle, and learn to notice the absence of something expected as easily as the presence of the unusual. I hope this makes me a better husband, a better friend, and someday a better doctor as well.

Thanks for reading!


Edit: After posting this, I have received tons of traffic from Lord of the Rings fansites. My best guess is they showed up because of the giant picture of the ring I placed in the blog. In an effort to drive traffic, I will soon begin inserting photos of famous people and upcoming movies into posts….just kidding. Maybe.