August 20, 2010

chisel & hammer

Our turn finally came to start cutting into the cadaver today.  There were two main tasks.  One was to isolate a small area below one's skull dubbed the "suboccipital triangle" which you can see in the photo below on the right. 

The second requirement was to pound through the vertebrae and isolate the base of the spine.  I am paired with two very nice but very diminutive in frame girls.  So when the option was between delicate cutting or cracking bone, guess which job I got? 

You guessed it.  My first experience with the cadaver was putting a chisel up against the bone, grabbing a rubber hammer, and whacking away relentlessly.  And strike away I did.  I really didn't know what I was doing.  Instead of preparing for the dissection yesterday, I spent a good 10 hours down at mdacc instead.  After a clusterf*#@ of a visit that I'm not going to get into right now because my blood pressure will hit around 200 mmHg, let's just say studying was the last thing on my mind.  But I figured I've cut into an animal or a thousand in my time so I'd just sort of wing it.  How different can human be from rodents really (sarcasm alert)?  Well, I screwed it up at first.  Being used to rodents, I went far too shallow.  Apparently, though, it looked like my winging meant I knew what I was doing.  One of the proffs said that he didn't offer me any advice since it looked like I knew what I was doing.  Sweat dripping down my brow, I was NOT about to let my first dissection end badly.  Pride wasn't going to let me go with my tail tucked between my legs on the first day of cuttin'.  So I hammered until my hand began to tingle and even my scrubs were starting to darken with sweat.  Finally with a crack that was both palpable as well as audible, I knew I had it.  I stuck my finger down into the depths of the back and felt what I just knew had to be the spinal cord below.  Jackpot. 

I removed about 6 more vertebrae, cleaned everything up and brought the pedagogue over to confirm my dissection.  All the necessary structures were there clear as a bright sunny day.  It was beautiful.  That may sound twisted to the average person but I truly do mean beauty in every sense of the term.  Seeing the beauty of the nerves branching off in hundreds of directions to bring pleasure and pain into our lives...how can that not translate into beauty for me?  And yet that means employing barbaric methods that would land me in jail if done outside of this place of learning.  After all, this once was a living and breathing human being replete with hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments.  Doctors, at least the good ones it would seem to me, would almost require a curiosity and fascination about life and death.  I wouldn't be able to do what I did without that appreciation and morbid curiosity. 

And yet life has a way of encouraging your demons and your fears to meet you half way.  Our cadaver?  He died of cancer, colon cancer to be exact.  And one of the key landmark vertebrae that I chiseled through?  Lumbar #5 which is the exact same vertebra that first revealed to us that my brother had cancer.

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