Friday, September 11, 2009

Life's Hand and Death's Mask

I know it's 9-11, but many others are covering the significance of this day so I won't belabor it here . . .

So yesterday was a LONG day. I saw my apartment for a total of about 45 minutes between 8am and 9:30pm.

For lunch I went out with some other M1s to this Mexican restaurant/bar. It was in a pretty shady part of town (thank God we went in the middle of the bright day). It was my first time having mole and it was delicious! Though I think I may have burnt my lips and tongue a little, grrr.

After classes were done, I had a meeting because I was a member of the M1 genetics liaison committee, a group of students who met with the genetics course director and gave our feedback to them. I won't discuss this here as that can be a post in it of itself.

After that I went to the Saturday free clinic mandatory meeting. I had signed up to be a volunteer but I was accidentally left out of the schedule. After a few pokes via email I was assigned to volunteer two Saturdays this semester. I'm sure practically every med school has a free clinic run by med students for the uninsured and under-served population. Here, each M1 is paired with an M2 and we take the patient history together. Then an M3 or M4 conducts the physical and, with the M1 and M2, makes a preliminary suggestion as to treatment. The volunteering doctor then either approves or modifies our decision. Interestingly, we have pseudo-prescribing powers as med students at this free clinic (though we use a very limited formulary for dispensing drugs, as we're not allowed to prescribe brand-name drugs because the patients would never be able to afford them, even if they worked better than a generic). I say "pseudo-" because we can write the prescriptions, but the volunteering doctor(s) there must sign off and okay it. Same thing goes with referring powers.

Practically every med student volunteering for this free clinic is super-excited because this is the first instance where we'll have real clinical experience and have real patients. This is what we went to med school for (well, hopefully most of us).
Life's Hand

After the Saturday free clinic mandatory meeting, I met up with an M2 and went to the APAMSA (Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association) dinner at a faculty's apartment. He lives in a very nice apartment right on the riverfront and he's incidentally the founder of APAMSA, so it was quite an honor. He's a pediatric gastroenterologist (they call him the baby vomit doctor) and it seems like an interesting field . . . I may ask to shadow him in the clinic and during procedures.

It was a lot of fun and great getting to know other M1s, M2s, and even some M3s and M4s. I met the M4 who's "assigned" to my anatomy table to help us out. She's a really pretty half-Asian who's going into neurology. Gah, why're all the M4s so hot!!

This one M2 guy brought his wife and 14-month-old son to the APAMSA dinner. He's the first Asian Mormon I've ever met! And his son was soooo cute, and shy; he wouldn't let anyone but his mom and dad touch him. The mom sat near me with her son for a good portion of the dinner. After a few minutes the son got comfortable enough with me to cautiously lay his little hand on my leg a few times (he was still avoiding everyone else but his mom and dad). A few minutes later he was pointing at something and looking at me to follow his gaze (he avoided eye contact with all the other strangers). And then he put his little hand in mine and just rested it there for a minute or two. It was definitely an "awww" moment. If we had a bit more time to interact I think we would've become friends. ^_^

This impressed the people around. I can generally establish rapport with (most) babies and kids within half an hour, somehow. I'm not sure how. But it's really cool that they just feel comfortable around me. I really like kids of almost all ages and I have my ways of connecting with them (usually). As a fellow M1 said, it's almost as if I was "destined" to be a pediatrician, lol. Babies!!
Death's Mask

Today we started the 2nd block of anatomy - the head and neck. Omg, there are sooo many bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, and veins in the head. I think I saw more names flash on the screen today in just 2 hours than in all of the last block combined. Not cool. -_-

Then in lab we had to finally uncover the face of our cadaver. Now, cutting into our cadaver's arms was disturbing, especially since we had to sometimes tie them up so there was a rather grosteque Christ-like appearance with arm parts splayed out. But we got used to this easily enough, and certainly during the lab practical exam there were arms sticking up at random angles, almost as if to wave or grasp at the air. And now we do the face, one of the most personal and "human" parts of the body next to the hands.

His eyelids were slightly open, his glazed eyes staring blankly and deathly at us. We cut into his face and began to peel back the skin. We initially cut too deep and stripped the muscles and everything from the top of the skull. A professor took such pity on our mutilation that he spent more than half an hour dissecting the skin off half the face for us to show us just how superficial we had to cut, as well as pointing out structures we surely would've destroyed without knowing.

Staring at our cadaver's face as it was being stripped of flesh was an . . . interesting experience. He died with this expression that I couldn't quite place - a rather quizzical death mask. From one angle he looked sad, almost with regret. From another angle he looked quite peaceful. And from yet another angle he appeared almost arrogant and proud (even as flesh was slowly being sliced away from his right cheek). The professor remarked that our cadaver had nice facial muscles and that perhaps he was a particularly expressive person in life.

The other cadavers around us each had their own unique death masks etched upon their faces. The old lady beside us had this creepy almost-grin, and as the group stripped her skin off it reminded me of a horror movie. Another group further down had progressed even further and the skin hung by the sides near the ears - it wasn't really recognizable as human anymore.

To be honest, I'm very surprised that no one fainted or vomited. It seemed like the normal thing to do in this situation. Perhaps we've become comfortable with death . . . As my friend said, "You can't pay me enough to do what you do." And my response, "Ironically, we're paying a lot to be able to do what we do."


Anonymous said...

I remember when I was learning the anatomy of the head (particularly everything around the vocal apparatus), and I GOODNESS, is the REST of the body this complicated?! Yes, so many names.

cvn70 said...


Sounds like a nice time at the dinner. Networking isnt a bad thing and meeing cute people is always nice lol

Im glad you are doingteh dsection and not me. take care and be safe


Anonymous said...

Northwestern, eh?

Dave83201 said...

I'm glad you got to meet at least one good Mormon... haha!

Babies rule! I tend my sister's kids all the time. I even learned to make balloon animals this year.

Then you go from cute babies to Night of the Living Dead! Talk about whiplash reading your post. Fascinating description from beginning to end. I am haunted by your description of the cadaver's facial expressions.

The people who agree to donate their bodies must have been remarkable people. Da Vinci and Michelangelo as artists had to learn their anatomy from cadavers taken from fresh graves. They worked alone in secret chambers at night by candle light, and risked prison or execution if caught. I find it remarkable that the final act of these people is to provide you a better education, and the public better doctors.

. said...

Hey Aek, your latest entry was very interesting to me. I liked your last three paragraphs of your blog entry. You wrote that very well. I'm enjoying your blog a lot. Thanks for visiting mine. Have a great weekend!!

Mike said...

Sounds like the dinner was a good time! I don't seem to do so well with the littler kids... 2nd grade and above seem to like me... my hat's off to you for handling the littler kids.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious... how's your appetite after dissecting?

Aek said...

James: Yeah . . . the head and neck is INSANE. T.T

cvn70: Lol, I'm not too happy doing this dissection, but the things we must do.

Anonymous: Northwestern? I've a friend in med school at Northwestern, but I don't go there. :P

Dave83201: Babies totally rule! ^_^ Yes, the progression of this post was quite interesting, no? I'm glad you found it fascinating.

.: Hi! I hope you had a good weekend too!!

Mike: Lol, babies are pretty easy to get along with, if you don't go all "coo and awww" over them. Some babies hate that.

Anonymous: My appetite is fine. I just refrain from cutting meat after dissecting. Several people around me report that the get really hungry towards the end of lab, and I'm just like "Ewww, this place suppresses my hunger."

naturgesetz said...

Pediatrician! Yay!

word verification: exandspa