Saturday, November 7, 2009

Speed Dating with Cadavers

If you’ve ever learned even a small bit about the Theory of Relativity, you’ve heard about the almost nonsensical concept of time dilation. Get yourself the latest spacecraft capable of going the speed of light and set off for a month. Come back and find that more time has elapsed back home than did for you, even though you were alive and fiddling with hyperspace cup holders for the same nominal period that your friends sat at home and made toast. Med school is like that. My days feel long and drawn out, but every once in a while I look up from whatever I’m reading and a week is gone. An entire quarter blew by, and I could go for some toast.

The last day of each quarter of the M1 year consists of an anatomy practical. 100 stations, 100 students, 100 minutes. Each of the ~50 cadavers is tagged in one or more locations and we have the privilege of identifying the structure. There are also about 20 questions on osteology tagged on a skeleton or loose bones to go along with rest stations scattered throughout.

The anatomy practical should be mostly binary, but 60 seconds runs away like the antelope that found the meth lab. In areas like the brachial plexus or with branching areas of arteries, there’s usually sleuthing to be done. Relationships are quite important, and running through a set of mnemonics or mental images lays waste to that minute pretty quickly. Scribble down “Semispinalis Capitis m.” then the buzzer sounds and it’s off to the next body like some Polish gameshow. (I don’t watch a lot of Polish television so if I’m wrong about their content, I do apologize. But I did hear that The Offiszcz is pretty good.) Talking with a few classmates, we all found that the most difficult part was sorting out the mess in our heads. For each compartment, we learn the contents separately. In the anterior thigh, I know which muscles are where. In a separate mental layer, I know how the femoral artery enters, branches, and continues through. In yet another layer, I can see the femoral and obturator nerves and their branches. Arriving at each body sets off another round of flipping through mental notecards. It's always strange to get tested in under two hours on content that required something like 40 hours in lab, 20 hours in class, and well more than the two combined in study. Long live the scholastic process.