I was in anatomy! Last year it seemed like it would never end. By the time it did, I was sure school couldn’t get any harder. It did.

I think it’s safe to say that most medical schools start the year with gross anatomy–an essential step toward becoming a doctor. I read the book, Body of Work before starting school and (if you ever get the chance, and are curious about dissection, it is very good) came into the lab with a predisposed emotional attachment to my cadaver. I’m an emotional person anyways, so I would have expected it, but I think it was amplified because of that book.

Author: Christine Montross

My cadaver was Clyde, died in his 90’s from pancreatic cancer. When we opened him up, his abdomen told the story of his death. We could tell he had been in a lot of pain in the end of his life, that his day-t0-day functions would have been affected and that he didn’t have much of a chance against the aggressive cancer. As you probably know, pancreatic cancer is often called a silent killer because until it’s REALLY bad you don’t show signs. No pain afferents in the pancreas, so no pain until the tumor is so large it’s imposing on other organs or other abdominal structures are irritated and by then it’s usually too late.

I was so moved by the process of dissecting I considered a PhD in anatomy (probably a little late!). I wrote Clyde a letter and read it aloud at our cadaver memorial service. I’ve since signed up for our Willed Body Program at our medical school so I can repay Clyde for all he taught me. Without that first patient, the one willing to let us make mistakes, learn from their faults, discover things about them that they never knew, without them, we would not be good doctors.

My lab group and I have a bond that we’ll never break because of that experience. We were privileged enough to look at Clyde’s heart and realize that he had 3 bypass surgeries, had calcified and atherosclerotic vessels all over his body, and probably lived with heart problems for a good portion of his life as an adult. We were able to hold his muscles in our hands and learn what it means to abduct an arm and how exactly muscles work, attach, and appear. The families of the cadavers are invited to the memorial service, Clyde’s didn’t come, but if I ever meet them I will share my love with them.

Last year I opted to start school early with a small group of students so I could teach anatomy in the Fall with for my classmates, this meant from June to the end of October I was in the anatomy lab. In spite of all of the amazing things it taught me, I was definitely ready to be done. And once we were done it didn’t take long to stop relating to that experience. It was easy to get overwhelmed with our other courses and let anatomy slip away.

Tomorrow the 1st years end anatomy and will enter that same cycle. I’m thankful that I’m reminded of my gratitude for Clyde.