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Nov 5, 2007

Gross Anatomy is Painful

The first years had their anatomy finals on Friday and, I am pleased to say, everyone seemed to survive it. For me, anatomy has been the worst part of medical school. Other classes have perhaps been more difficult as far as material goes, but there is nothing worse than anatomy and gross lab. Nothing. No matter how much you distance yourself from it, there are so many emotions that are involved in dealing with cadavers, not to mention what you then do to the cadavers. I had a really rough time with all of that.

The worst day for me was not the first, as it was for many of my classmates. For me, the worst day was nearer to the end when we learned some information about our cadavers. Specifically, cause of death, age, and what KY county they were from. For many of the cadavers, the cause of death could be guessed from the "autopsy" that we were slowly performing, however there were some surprises. I remember the table next to mine was an old man. His cause of death was listed as "Failure to Thrive", a diagnosis usually reserved for newborns who refuse to eat or grow or live. In the case of adults, it means they wasted away, lost the will to live. One of my classmates said, "ooh! How cute! Failure to thrive... that probably means that he passed away quietly in his sleep." How cute. I was, and remain, disgusted by this comment. The above linked PubMed article says "sudden death occurs unexpectedly". This doesn't sound very peaceful to me.

By this point in the semester, I had dealt with most of my issues surrounding working with the cadavers. I spoke with several of the faculty about how to deal with it and I felt pretty confident in my rationalization: These people all knew what they were getting into and chose to donate their bodies anyway. The least I can do in return is to learn from their gift.

However, being faced with the facts resurrected my doubts by reminding me that these cadavers were once living, breathing, decision makers. They discussed their options with their now grieving families. Maybe their families didn't want them to make the choice that they did. What if one of their family members had been a doctor - what was that person feeling? Having gone through the process, I don't want anyone I know, including myself, to donate their bodies. Donate your organs, yes. Donate your body to science, not a chance.

These feelings stuck with me until the end of the course. During our practical exam we went around to each cadaver twice to answer questions. I remember trying to say a silent 'thank you' to each one as I visited for the last time. I remember being so overwhelmed at the level of dissection in some of the cadavers that there wasn't a lot left to thank. But I tried anyway. It helped a little.

1 Readers rock!:

The Scrivener said...

Great post. Dissections can really be taxing. I've found I've become emotionally attached to my group's cadaver, which makes it easier in some ways and harder in others. (BTW, thank you for the note you left on my blog about transections.)

If you don't mind, I'm going to link to your blog.