Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The anatomy lab

I entered first year Medicine in September 1953. The first year of medicine at the University of Manitoba, and in the Canadian schools at that time, entailed long hours in the anatomy dissection laboratory. Our class of sixty four had twenty one bodies to dissect and it required a full academic year to do so. The first day we entered the lab room was an awe inspiring event. Twenty one cadavers, each on a separate table, encased in vaseline and wrapped like a mummy in muslin. The enormity of it was awe inspiring. Each three students were given one body to dissect for the year. We started on the back muscles. Prior to beginning, the Professor, Ian MacLaren Thompson, gave us a lecture on the need for decorum and respect of the persons who had donated their bodies to science. The ethical responsibility he stressed would serve us well in practice, to learn to be respectful of both life and death. He well knew he was addressing a collection of spirited twenty and thirty year olds. The teaching of Anatomy has completely changed with the evolution of virtual reality,modeling, imaging, and fragmented anatomy teaching, concurrent as pathology and clinical work is linked. The volume of required medical knowledge has increased considerably, since my day, and I am sure the current methods are geared to more rapid and comprehensive learning. What is lost, I suspect, is the intimacy and connectedness you develop with a once human structure, over the year. The doggedness that is necessary to display a perfect dissection and teasing out of anatomical structures common to all of us. A respect for an authentic person we called a cadaver but knew that once their's was a life. The patience required to persist, slowly and carefully, laid the ground work for a surgical career. Most of the science in Medicine is rapidly subject to change. What you learned ten years ago is often wrong with new knowledge gained. Gross anatomy does not change. You learn it once for all time. Ethics don't change. You retain, or don't retain them, for all time.

1 comment:

  1. As a 17-year-old visiting Queen's University in Kingston for a student U.N. conference, I found myself with a small band of explorers in what was probably a medical museum: a room of glass exhibit jars with dissected body parts. Some where torsos with the heads attached, their eyes closed as if sleeping and a hint of stubbled beard on their chins; their faces at eye level with ours. We were boisterous teenagers, but all moved from case to case in silent awe. All these years later, I have never forgotten it.