Monthly Archives: January 2013

saying goodbye

I wrote this piece this weekend and recited it for the cadaver memorial service my class had this morning after our last gross anatomy lab.

Now that everything is said and done, I feel like we never got the time to reflect on what we were doing.   We treated each day in lab like a to do list—remove subcutaneous tissue, learn the structures hiding beneath.

But I’ll be honest; as our days on the tenth floor dwindled, my thoughts began to transcend bolded terms and the broad expanse of body they defined.

I think about the day when we made the first cuts on those undisturbed bodies, months ago. It’s funny.  At this point, we’ve dissected so much that we can’t recognize any of you, but you’re more of individuals to me now than you were when we started.  I’ve caught myself wondering what kind of lives you led before you wound up here.  We kept glancing at the list on the far wall, reminding ourselves of how you died, but no piece of paper in this place can tell us how you lived.  Maybe you fought in wars.  Perhaps you saw grandchildren grow up, gave generous presents on Christmas, at birthdays.  Maybe back in the day you took jobs bagging groceries, babysitting, or cutting lawns for old ladies—children with empty pockets and full heads of dreams.  But I can only speculate.  I only saw your physical history when we took off the calvaria and scrutinized the holes that line the skull.  I couldn’t find any of your memories in there.

We did try to give you names to replace the impersonal four digits scrawled on your arms and legs.  Number 6290, my group couldn’t decide what to call you.  We were somewhere between Harold, Hank, and maybe something else.  Nothing stuck.  Nothing felt right.  Sorry about that.

Whatever your names or occupations in life, I have to commend your talent as teachers.  You enlightened us, showed us so much, without uttering a single word.  That’s something even our professors can’t do.

All in all, as happy as I am to leave this cold laboratory and its awkward smells, as much as I’ve been looking forward to being done with the stiff scrubs and the latex gloves, I guess there is something that I’ll miss about this place.  I learned many lessons here.

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continuity clinic

As part of a course called Continuity Clinical Experience (CCE), I’ve been going to an ENT clinic every Wednesday since September or October.  Since the clinic I’m in is highly specialized, all I’ve been able to really do is shadow my preceptor or the resident who happens to be working with him.  I enjoy it, but for much of the four hour time slot each Wednesday, I stand around and chat with another classmate, just barely a part of the hustle and bustle of the environment.  Usually, I feel like a poser in a white coat, allowed to loiter only because I’m in the proper attire.

Today, my classmate and I went to clinic expecting a typical afternoon of acoustic neuromas and patients complaining of unilateral hearing loss.  Our task for this month in CCE was to ask 2 patients and 2 team members to fill out evaluation forms for each of us; since we don’t have much patient interaction compared to our peers, we wondered how we would complete the assignment.  “Surely they can’t evaluate us on how we stand in the corner,” I joked.

They didn’t have to.  My preceptor chose four patients from his afternoon list and asked us to each pick two.  “I want you two to go in, introduce yourselves, and take a basic patient history.  Then come out and present to me or [the resident who’s helping out], and we’ll go in together to see the patient.  At the end of the visit, I’ll ask them if they can fill out the evaluation for you.”

I’d only taken a history 2 or 3 times before, so I was extremely nervous.  It took a lengthy moment of preparation to go up to the first exam room, say a quick prayer, and timidly knock on the door.  My mouth was dry as I stumbled through the patient interview, apologizing profusely for the fact that I hadn’t had much experience talking to patients as a first-year.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked out of the room to present to my preceptor, wondering what the patient would write on the evaluation.

I was much more comfortable with the second patient.  We discussed her chief complaint and were even able to share a couple of laughs before I left the room.  A short time later, when I finished presenting the history to the resident, he looked at me and said, “Fantastic job.”  

I suddenly felt like I knew something, was learning something valuable…like I actually belonged in clinic.