There’s that little voice – can you hear it? The nasty little one going “I told you so.”
Anyway, I’d better catch you up on, oh, the last two months? I started class and had to quickly remember how to be a student and do those responsible things like study and not watch random TV shows/go on my MMORPG as soon as I get home.I took my first set of exams and passed all of them (we’re pass-fail until January), though the perfectionist in me is annoyed I only did average and not above. I promised myself I’d be more on the ball and study harder this month, yet here I am the day before our CTB (cell and tissue biology; also, physiology and histology) and biochemistry exams, feeling woefully underprepared. Ah well, this is what Mod 1 is for, they say.
Oh, and we’ve started anatomy. That particular exam’s on Friday. I don’t think I was prepared for the sheer amount of information, and at this point I’m just hoping I’ll pass.
Anatomy is a strange beast. You’ve got a bunch of fresh-faced first-years being taught by a real hodgepodge of physicians and anatomists and third- and fourth-year med student TAs, all of whom are desensitized to the whole being-around-a-dead-body thing. We’re all sort of pussyfooting around, and then the professors and TAs barge in, ripping fascia, digging around, shoving their finger through the inguinal canal and alongside the spermatic cord into the scrotum. We’re given a card with the age, sex and cause of death of our cadaver (the more politically correct term is “donor”); ours included a sentence that said “Brain donor.” We asked our professor what that meant, and he whipped the cover off our cadaver’s head to reveal the lack of stitches signifying the removal of the brain (it doesn’t preserve well via whole-body perfusion, but they always keep one intact so we can see it). On my very first day of anatomy, I saw the face of the man who gave his body for our education. Oh.
I asked several of my classmates if they would consider donating their body to science, and I both was and wasn’t surprised to receive quite a few resounding responses in the negative. I don’t know — yes, the dissection is in itself a little gruesome and might be construed by some as disrespectful, but it’s just so helpful. I can’t but be incredibly grateful for the gift these people have given us, and to know that some day, some scared-off-their-ass first-year might learn all about the nerves in the mediastinum from me? That’d be pretty cool.
Then I started really thinking about it. There’s a lot of shit that goes down in anatomy labs, very little of it pretty. Those not in medicine would probably be horrified by what is said and done. (There’s something to be said here about gallows humor, but I think I’ll save it for a time when I’ve had more first-hand experience – clinics, perhaps?) Therefore, I decided that if I were to donate my body, I would want my formalin-preserved carcass to arrive with a note. It’d go something like this:
Hello and congratulations on medical school! I remember being in your place, standing over a cadaver with a scalpel and feeling utterly helpless (I’m supposed to cut him open?). It’s frightening. It is, for the first few weeks, kind of horrifying. But I promise you’ll learn so much and it’ll stick with you forever. However, I do have some things to say about working with my body:
- Let me apologize in advance: I won’t look like Netter’s.
- Sorry if I stink.
- You don’t know my name, and I’m sure you’ll want to give me one. Go ahead! Here, I’ll give you some suggestions: Gertrude, Juicy, BBQ, Lady Gaga (if you still know who she is), [insert movie character name here].
- Do try not to make too many comments about how much fat I have. I’ll bet your Camper’s fascia isn’t anything to sneeze at, either.
- If they try to look at/dissect the pelvic and urogenital diaphragms by doing that thing where they put my pelvis up on a block with my ass in the air, don’t let them. That just looks uncomfortable. Also, I know I’d drip on the floor and I don’t want you to slip and end up on one of these tables.
- The first time you remove the covering on my face, you are required to ooh and aah and remark, “Wow, she was really pretty!” You are not allowed to add, “But then she got old, man, what happened.”
- I encourage you to use random parts of my body to scare the crap out of your classmates, e.g. detaching my hand and tapping on someone’s shoulder, pretending to make my heart “beat”, etc.
- No tutting sadly over any particular pathologies you find. “That’s so AWESOME!” is totally acceptable though.
- I’m aware that I look kind of delicious. If you are ridiculously hungry after anatomy, it’s because my spirit is with you. Eat some pulled pork for me.
- Parody songs having to do with anatomical terms are strongly encouraged.
- However, if some cocky fourth-year comes over with bloody hands and wipes them on the cheesecloth covering my face, I want you to wind up, gloves covered in my internal body juices and formalin, and smack him in the face. Hard. Because that shit’s rude.
Tomorrow is my white coat ceremony.
Tomorrow, I take the Hippocratic oath. I don the short white coat of the medical student. I take the first real steps to becoming a doctor and, more importantly, a healer.
(Aside: it’s a shame that Penn doesn’t allow students with doctor parents to be coated by their parent. I would’ve loved for my mom to do the honors, considering the ways in which her and my dad’s lives as physicians and parents have inspired my love of science and my drive, ultimately, to help others. However, she did give me the wonderful gift of an incredible stethoscope this evening. I was more touched than I let on.)
It’s strange, because it feels simultaneously so important and so meaningless. Wearing a coat doesn’t mean I magically know all of anatomy. It doesn’t mean I can respond to a medical emergency on an airplane. It certainly doesn’t make the decision of choosing a specialty, whenever that happens, any easier.
However, it does mean I can walk through the halls of HUP with the knowledge that it is now an institution of learning for me and my classmates. It ties me inexorably to my classmates in the shared experience of medical student-hood. (All of whom, by the way, are fantastic and fascinating and beautiful and intelligent in their own right. I find that they embody the true essence of “kindness”, not only simply nice but also part of the greater human community.) It marks the beginning of a frightening, busy, unbelievably awesome (also in all senses of the word) phase of my life. I will have taken an oath nearly as old as the healing profession itself. Though it has thankfully changed with the times (a bit less threatening, and more accepting of abortion, now), the concept is the same. I will promise to dedicate the remainder of my life to the healing of others – in my case, both at the bedside and the bench.
And I’m so fucking scared.
So bad, in fact, that I decided to start my entire blog with one of the more clichéd blog titles in existence.
Meta-joke aside, I have a horrible tendency to start a blog only to heartlessly cast it aside after only a few posts, then rediscover it several months later and feel like an utter failure. (I can’t share any links with you, as I deleted them all out of painful embarrassment, but suffice it to say there are at least three specific examples of this occurring.) In an attempt to prevent this from happening again, I’ve tried to identify the main causes of my blogging impotence:
- No one reads it. I admit, I’m partially in it for the personal validation. I’m also notoriously bad at personal journaling – if no one’s reading it, I don’t see any reason to take the time to write pages and pages for myself. When I was younger, I was way better at this. I think it’s because I really didn’t see any other output for my (desperate, painful, secret, teenage) emotions, and I found it incredibly difficult to share my emotional vulnerability with others. On the flip side, though, I’ve adapted somewhat by discounting and/or dismissing my feelings, which just leads to them re-appearing down the line. But I’m straying from my original point: I need some sort of external source of accountability for my writing. I absolutely respect those who don’t, but I do.
- It’s a lot of work. Part of my reluctance to blog long-term is the fact that it takes me a pretty long time to write something. I wish I were a faster writer, I really do, but I self-edit so much that I sit staring at my screen, trying to come up with the perfect way of phrasing something. (And yes, this totally bit me in the ass when writing long term papers.) For me, writing is like exercise: it takes a lot to get me motivated enough to start, but once I’m done, I’m incredibly grateful that I did it. I think that, like exercise, this should in theory get better with time. One day, I’d like to write like a motherfucker, but that day hasn’t come just yet.
- Corollary to the previous point: I have better things to do. I was in high school, trying to do well in my schoolwork so I could get into a good college. I was in college, working my ass off both in class and out. I’m in medical and graduate school, and I think – I think – one of my goals is to be in Alpha Omega Alpha, the medical honors society. The point is, there’s always something higher on my priority list. I’m also a horrible procrastinator, at times, and the resulting panic tends to push blog-writing and other writing for enjoyment even further down on that list.
- The overarching theme? I don’t think I, or my writing, is worth the time it takes to write a blog. Which, if you think about it, is an intensely personal thing to write in one’s inaugural post on a blog. And it certainly sounds like I’m fishing for a compliment, which I’m not. I hate compliments. No, instead, it’s a thing I need to both personally and publicly recognize. I’ve been trying to identify those self-destructive thoughts which have insinuated themselves into my subconscious existence and undermined my success. Acknowledge them. Accept them. Let them go. And while of course I’d like to write a blog that interests other people, I’m also writing for myself, as any other blogger is, really.