Friday, 12 October 2012


Ciao my friends,

When you do something enough it becomes normal, and that's the case whether it's driving a car, or a plane, or a spaceship, or whether you're washing the windows of a skyscraper, jumping out planes, performing lifesaving operations. This is the main argument used by those who argue against violence in our tv programs and video games -- we don't want our children to grow up thinking it's better to shoot people in the head than in the body, because that devalues the choice of whether to shoot someone at all. That is a different matter, but it leads in to what I want to discuss in this post.

I do anatomy at university. I love it. For the past few years I have looked forwards with eagerness to third year because that is when we can do a dissection unit. With scalpel and forceps in hand, for 8 weeks of this semester we have taken apart a human being. Actually, because the class was so large we took apart 7 humans. We named our man Walter, and felt rather proud of him because he was young and had much larger muscles than the other people which made our work much easier. Was that hard for us? Not really, because since first year we've seen body parts. The only thing that was new about this was to see the whole body before any work had been done to it.

The thing is, when I tell people about what we've been doing they almost invariably can't stand to hear much beyond "I've been doing a bit of dissection on this man". That has made me look back on myself numerous times recently, trying to find where that part of me has gone. Is this normal to me now? When I look at my own arms and wish I could see what's in my arm, is that normal?

After our mid semester break we finished our human dissections, and started the part of the unit that I was most apprehensive about -- animal dissections. We have learnt a lot about human anatomy now, so it was time to correlate that with other species. We walked into the room and were hit by a wall of air, so thickly hung with formaldehyde that it made our eyes sting and stream. There was a tub, filled with monkeys and gibbons and chimps. Spreading them out across a few tables, we tentatively began. In exactly the same manner as it had happened with humans though, it wasn't long before what had been a monkey was, to our eyes, muscle and nerves and bones. My mum had told me that she didn't want to know when I did anything on monkeys, Where had that part of me gone?

And then this week has been about dogs and quokkas. I love dogs, but I didn't mind dissecting into one's body. My mum on the other hand would have baulked at the idea, had I told her. We all made jokes to try to take some people's minds off it -- a pretty standard thing in dissection rooms the world over.

Recently I had my interview for medicine, and one of the questions was: "what will be some of the difficulties you face when in medicine". I responded with some things they've probably heard a thousand times, but I also told them something that has been on my mind for a number of years -- It doesn't matter how hard it is to learn how to save patients, it is going to be harder for me to learn how to lose one. I have been through a semester of dissection, and I have learnt a lot but I feel like I have lost something as well. If I head into medicine, I am going to do everything in my power to retain that sense of my patient being a real human being -- not simply a bag of muscles and nerves and bones that are acting up.

Thank you Walter. Somewhere out there I hope you have a family that think of you always. I will try to use what I learnt from you to save at least one person's life.


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