Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Anatomy Adventures

Celebrating Medical School Graduation! 2005

*Disclaimer: this is a little gross. Read on if you'd like...but just remember I warned you!!

I have an all-time favorite medical-school story I love to tell. It happens to be one of my husband Greg’s least favorite stories. As soon as he hears me begin, he rolls his eyes and asks if I have to tell that “dumb old story” again. At which point I tell him that yes, I have to tell it! I can’t help it. And besides, I find it oddly funny.

Years ago, we were living in a small apartment at the back of a large multi-building complex. It was a rather dark apartment with very few windows. Our only windows looked out to a meandering stream surrounded by thick foliage, which further blocked out any light. The apartment smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and laundry detergent from the washroom just outside our front door.

One evening during Greg’s first year of medical school, he suddenly noticed something lying on our dingy carpet. As he bent to pick whatever it was up, he stopped short and quickly drew in his breath. “Oh, no. Rindi, don’t look!” he warned me. I can’t think of any other two words in the entire English language that cause me to whip my head around faster than the two words DON’T LOOK! Unfortunately for me, the lighting was too poor for me to make out the object he was promptly scooping up with a paper towel.

“What was that, Greg?” I was quick to ask. No one likes to find unknown objects in one’s house, and I am no different. Greg was hesitant to tell me, which only increased my curiosity.
He started to apologize about it before finally saying, “Just don’t worry about it.” I’ve heard those words from Greg many times before. That is his way of saying he doesn’t want to talk about something. He usually says that when I am trying to psycho-analyze his feelings or something. “Just don’t worry about it, Rindi,” he’ll say. But me being Rindi, I don’t let it die. I like to think I am an expert psycho-analyst, much to Greg’s chagrin.

I pressed him for answers about the unidentified object. “I must have had something stuck on my shoe when I came home today from the anatomy lab,” was all he said. Well, that just wasn’t the end for me, and I pressed him further. “It was a farfery,” he finally mumbled in my direction.

“What did you say?” By now I was laughing and highly considering digging in the garbage.

“Okay, it was an artery from the cadaver lab!”

My eyes nearly popped out of my head! “AN ARTERY? Are you kidding me? That is so disgusting!” I was giving Greg the exact reaction he had hoped to avoid. Suddenly I wanted to know why he was still wearing the same shoes he had worn into the lab. I thought this was about the funniest thing that had ever happened to us. Greg just kept telling me “not to worry about it.” So, I immediately launched into my psychoanalysis about why Greg wasn’t finding this as incredibly hilarious as I was.

Believe it or not, I have my own cadaver lab experience. Back when I was in high school, my human biology teacher took our class on a field trip to visit a cadaver lab. The hype surrounding this event was akin to taking a bunch of high school students to a horror film. Some people were squeamish about it, but we were all counting down the days, hours, and minutes until we could go. My teacher sent home permission slips for our parents to sign. Any activity requiring a special permission slip is bound to be good—like the maturation film in fifth grade! No one stayed home sick that day.

I had tried to prepare myself for what I might see and smell that day. Nonetheless, the images and smells I encountered in that laboratory are now etched into the part of my brain that never forgets. The stench of formaldehyde greeted us before we even entered the room. Covering our noses, we all shuffled into the bright white room of the elusive CADAVER LAB. Many things shocked me—like the shelves of body parts—but two things blew my mind. Our tour guide (I’m not quite sure who he was—maybe a medical student?) showed us a man’s head lying on a stainless steel table. It had been cut in half so that the back of the head could be removed, exposing the front half of the brain and skull. I was okay with seeing the inside of the man’s brain, but I was totally unprepared for the face. The head had been left lying face down so that the guide had to turn it over for us to look into a worn-out face of a human being. The troubling part, to me, was his large nose. It was completely smashed to the side from being pressed against the table. The face looked so real, but the nose looked so unnatural. I don’t know why, but this juxtaposition of life and death deeply disturbed me.

At one point, we ventured to the reproductive section. I remember seeing these deep metal tubs with shiny silver lids that could be slid open to reveal a full body underneath. I wasn’t too phased (relatively speaking) by seeing a wrinkly old lady’s reproductive organs. It didn’t translate into anything in my real world besides what I had already seen in pictures.

Next, we all gathered around another metal tub. The guide slowly slid back the lid to reveal an old man. The distinguishing male features had been removed so our guide brought forth a tray containing three or four male reproductive organs. Being a young girl (okay, even as a grown-up girl!), I was unable to even speak the name of this particular organ let alone lay my eyes upon a tray of many of them. The guide picked one unmentionable up in his hand and to give us a better view, waved it in our direction coming very near my face. My girlfriends and I jerked back in horror. Perhaps a young girl’s first experience with seeing an unmentionable shouldn’t be that of a dead ninety-year-old man. It reminds me of the time our family went on a cruise to the Caribbean. We happened upon a nude beach which might have been a very intriguing experience for my sisters and me. The only problem was that the only people expressing their nudity were senior citizens. One elderly gentleman, in particular, seemed to want our attention since he paced back and forth in front of our spot on the beach. Like my experience in the cadaver lab, my sisters and I would jerk our eyes away in horror! This one senior couple was enjoying a nice day at the beach while shopping at some of the beach stands. The woman had a purse slung over her shoulder, but other than that, they were completely naked. I am totally uncomfortable with the notion of shopping in the buff.

I left the cadaver lab with mixed emotions that day. I was able to recognize the scientific need for human cadaver labs, while at the same time hoping I wouldn’t suffer a similar fate. Remembering all this, I think I finally understood Greg’s sensitivities about the artery in our home. A medical student must be profoundly respectful of the body he is dissecting, because the very act of dissection comes so near to the deepest form of disrespect between one human being and another.

A short while after our “artery incident,” Greg came home from the anatomy lab a bit discouraged. Over dinner (which is usually where we discuss anything unappetizing) Greg told me that his dissection team had just lost another body to mold. I was fascinated by the image of this. “We did everything we could,” he said dejectedly. “We have washed and rewashed our instruments and double-checked the surrounding area, but we can’t figure out why our cadavers are still growing mold. It is so sad.” His mood just begged to be psychoanalyzed at this point. It was as if he had just had a patient die or something. I was dumbfounded. This reconfirmed my idea about profound respect. Later, he told me that if they want, the medical students are allowed to see the deceased person’s records. It helps to know what diseases the person has suffered. I think that really personalized it for Greg, maybe a little too much. I was proud of Greg for treating his “patients” so well—it’s what they would have wanted. But in the end, I think all of that helped contribute to the kind of doctor that he is today. A GREAT ONE! :) And I hope that by laughing about this, I'm not being's just one of those funny thing that has happened to us along the way!
Love, Rindi
P.S. Don't tell Greg I told this "dumb old story" again!


Christie K said...

I am laughing so hard at the unmentionable mentioned!!

Tami said...

Rindi, what a funny post! I can only imagine how traumatizing it must have been to be a high school student and having that experience with "that". I have wondered what it would be like to go to a cadaver lab but I don't think I could handle that! Thanks for the laugh!

Em Russ said...

ok... so many things I want to say, but mostly... why didn't I get to go on this field trip and WHY do I not remember ANY of this story... I have to have heard it before, right.... seriously...

and I would DIE if an artery ended up on my floor!!

and I might have a nightmare about some old guy's unmentionables tonight...

Em Russ said...

p.s. my favorite line in the post "any activity requiring a special permission slip is bound to be good-like the maturation film in fifth grade!!"

ha ha ha...

Anonymous said...

Rindi, That is so funny. I don't remember you telling me that story about the lab and the unmentionables. You must have been too embarrassed to tell your mom. Maybe you thought that the next time a release slip came home I wouldn't sign it! Mom

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