It’s the end of the first week…and I survived! Right now that feels like an enormous accomplishment. I wrote the following post last night in a sleep-deprived state but I will follow with another sometime this weekend during a break from hours of more studying. Welcome to Medical School weekends!
As part of our gross anatomy course, we do a full cadaver dissection. We were prompted to write down our thoughts concerning beginning dissection and how we anticipated we would react to the somewhat incomprehensible experience. I’ve included some excerpts from my response for the course so you could have some insight into how I was feeling just prior to the first meeting with my cadaver and after the first cut. Note: Although my responses were not detailed about the dissection process, this may make you a little squeamish…
I’m really not sure of how I will respond to being in the presence of a dead body and working intimately with my cadaver. I’m fascinated by what we will be doing and in some ways I am repulsed. I’ve been skimming various dissections in our textbook and I already recognize several cuts that I don’t know how I will feel when required to proceed. Certain areas of the body seem so personal and sensitive that it is hard for me to imagine the destructive process of dissection occurring. I am approaching cadaver dissection with an open mind and also a great sense of respect and appreciation for those who donated their bodies to science. I am in awe of their contribution and I think my reverence for their donation will help me through the process. I can acknowledge a mixture of emotions right now from anxiety to excitement to fear. Ultimately, I am able to move my mind beyond the dissection, and the very physical and tactile nature of the process, and see the greater experience, which is the development of an intimate and expansive understanding of the human body. I think it is incredibly important to remain emotionally attached to our task—I don’t think I would be compromising my professionalism by remaining present and aware of the body in front of me. In fact, I think it would be incredibly unprofessional to become desensitized and disrespectful to the body. While I do hope I become more accustomed to the process, I don’t want to lose sight of what I am doing or work through the dissections without any emotional response. I don’t think that would allow for a complete experience.
I think one of the elements I am most concerned about is the development of our group dynamic and the structural organization of the team I am hoping to help create. Since we spend so much time with our anatomy group, I hope that we will be able to develop a cohesive unit focused more on working together and supporting one another than interpersonal competition and stress. The coursework and amount of material we are expected to master is extensive and stressful enough without adding pressure to impress peers. I really hope we can become a collective and learn to work seamlessly together, picking up where another left off or encouraging someone to try something new they are hesitant to undertake. I understand that the dynamic amongst groups of students in medical school can take a turn towards the competitive and away from the collaborative but I hope I will be able to push my group towards more positive interaction. I understand the need for competition but I think there is a great difference between competition for learning’s sake and mere competition to bolster self-pride. I recognize that we are all here to achieve the same end and hold similar values, which can drive competitiveness but I also appreciate how the very same elements should encourage us to support one another. I hope that my group will be a team devoid of aggressive behavior towards one another—instead, I hope we can funnel our competitiveness to push ourselves to greater achievements and fuel our desire to learn as much as we can.
After the first day of dissection, we were asked to briefly recount our experiences and emotions. I was shocked at my own cavalier attitude towards the dissection. I didn’t feel repulsed or unsure; I felt confident with the cuts I was making and with the help of the TA’s and faculty, I felt assured that I was handling the cadaver in a respectful and appropriate manner. I wasn’t hesitant or nervous as I expected I would be. The smell didn’t bother me as it did when I first entered the lab on Sunday and I quickly adjusted to the process of cleaning subcutaneous tissue and revealing key superficial structures. Overall, I felt myself focusing far more on the academic element of the dissection, which helped ease my fears and quell any anxiety I felt prior to the first cut.
I’m still getting used to the lab and the charge we’ve been given, but we spend up to three hours a day with our bodies so I’m slowly becoming used to the windowless laboratory and odd smell that seems to linger on my hands, scrubs, and everything else I touch. I am hoping to get some sleep tonight, I’m operating on very little from this past week, so I will leave you for now but check back sometime this weekend for a more in depth update about the first week!