Saturday, August 05, 2006

Fourth Year, round 2

My second round this year is going to be a bit odd. I'm working in the cadaver lab, assisting the first year students as they pass through the crucible that is Gross Anatomy. And being back down there, in the bowels of the med school with the dead bodies, I am visited with first year memories of my own. I remember distinctly smelling of formalin for 3 months straight. I remember getting to the point where it was only after a long, hot shower that my sinus were cleansed enough of the smell that I could notice ... I still smelled. I remember going in to work on dissection at 2am because I thought no one else would be around, and running into my lab partner thinking the same thing.

I think that was the first step, the initial motion in the journey of a thousand miles towards seeing people not as people, but as patients. I imagine, like a Zen lesson, it will be another long journey to return to seeing them as people, and then my education and formation as a doctor will be complete. I do know that now, being back there, in the lab with the cadavers I'm bothered by the fact that I'm not bothered. I'm in a room surrounded by 52 dead people, people who were noble in their final gesture of donation, who are now yellowed and dead, and I feel nothing beyond academic interest and drive. I'm chilled by the thought.

I do remember as well reading Rupert Brooke's "The Dead" as a memorial service for our cadavers at the end of first year.

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

I remember reading, trying desperately to think of my cadaver as a person, someone who had felt pain from the cancer which had evidently killed her, someone who probably had sons and daughters, and grand daughters and sons, someone who had "gone proudly friended" and failing, even with Brooke's help. I was desperately ashamed of my inability to feel, in light of the evident emotion of my teachers. I was more ashamed of the sham emotion I forced upon myself out of guilt.

But now I see some of why that is. It is difficult, and perhaps impossible (at least for me) to see the humanity in someone incapable of interaction. I do not doubt there are nobler creatures than I who can and do see this, but this fundamental aspect of my personality is probably the reason I'm not going into psychiatry. It probably is even a positive motivator for my choosing internal medicine, a specialty largely dependent upon interpersonal interaction.

There may be fault in this part of me. It may be I should see more of humanity in abstract representations of it. I don't yet know, but my journey is not complete.

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