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“Getting a Grip”

Tuesday: August 11, 2015

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I am reading like mad to get ready for this upcoming semester. For Human Paleontology, one of the books I have chosen is hopefully a light read overall, but educational in the sense that it will teach the bigger evolutionary story of human evolution: Neil Shubin‘s Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body.

I have paused in my reading of Chapter 2, titled “Getting a Grip” because his experience so exactly mirrored my own during the Human Cadaver Prosection program last summer and I wanted to share:

“The moment when we removed the sheet and saw the body for the first time wasn’t nearly as stressful as I’d expected. We were to dissect the chest, so we exposed it while leaving the head, arms, and legs wrapped in preservative-drenched gauze. The tissues did not look very human. Having been treated with a number of preservatives, the body didn’t bleed when cut, and the skin and internal organs had the consistency of rubber…It was all very mechanical, detached, and scientific.

This comfortable illusion was rudely shattered when I uncovered the hand. As I unwrapped the gauze from the fingers – as I saw the joints, fingertips, and fingernails for the first time – I uncovered emotions that had been concealed during the previous few weeks.”

(Vintage Publishing, 2009, p28-29)

I remember having a very strong reaction to my First Patients’ hands. I had found it so odd that the knuckles and fingernails would be such a trigger, of all things. I was happy to have felt a connection, too, even though the emotions startled me. While it worked in my favor, perhaps, to remain so detached in the lab, there were times I wondered what was wrong with me!

My respect and gratitude to all our First Patients, once again.

As an aside, I had to choose books somewhat blindly due to the limited time frame of me knowing what I would be teaching and the delay in shipping review books and the pressure for the bookstore to order things in a timely manner for the students to have on the first day of class. Oi.

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I held a human heart

Thursday: June 26, 2014

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Yesterday was our last lecture class for the IHCPP program. One of the components was a show and tell of various organs. As they were being unboxed and passed around, I was analyzing my feelings about how it would feel to hold them in my hands.

A heart. A brain. Kidney. Pancreas and spleen. And another heart that was cut in half so we could see its interior.

A few students also gave presentations. We had a great time learning to juggle (C gave a presentation on how his experience in Clown School will impact his role as a doctor). I cannot really comment on the other ones, as I must abide to the confidentiality laws.

Now that the lecture series is over, I thought I could take a moment to write my thoughts. First, I feel utterly out of place. Almost everyone has a medical background and certainly a medical interest. These words being tossed around are not completely foreign to them. I can’t even put together things with root words I know because they are just that far out of my vocabulary. It has been quite a while since the last time I felt I couldn’t bring anything at all to the table. A nice kick of humility is good every now and then, eh?

Now, to counter that, I feel great about my osteo knowledge. Even knowing I haven’t had much practice for almost two years now, I can still side and name things readily enough. The irony is that in this crash course of gross anatomy, it seems that more attention is given to the bones than the soft tissues to bring everyone (else) up to speed. Of course, that is more likely only because there is so much to learn, almost all of it 100% new to me that I can’t keep up, and then when we get to the bones, I have a moment to relax so it feels uneven.

Third, I really am approaching this experience through such a different context than probably anyone else in the class. As mentioned, I have no medical background and it is a challenge, but what I mean goes beyond that. In discussions, the type of questions I want to raise are vastly different than the type being asked and although I know (and feel that) I am completely welcome to ask them, they seem much too irrelevant for the rest of the class. No one other than me wants to know how to apply all this to fragmented skeletons in the archaeological record, not when there are living people suffering through diseases that they can help.

Lastly, I am grateful my first summer class did not carry. Dr. T. assigns homework after each lecture, and let me tell you, they can be quite the doozy! I haven’t been that crazed over finding answers in who knows how long. I was looking up words used in the question just to understand what was being asked. I had my notes and handouts from class, Gray’s Anatomy, Human Osteology, The Human Anatomy Coloring Book, and Anatomy and Physiology out on the table, in addition to things on Wikipedia and the greater internet. It was intense! But I am loving the challenge. It is really pushing me, and I just know the pay off will be immeasurable.

Our first patients arrive in two weeks, followed by our rides in ambulances to the local hospital to get them imaged with xrays, CTs, and MRIs. Then we will begin the prosection and hold a memorial to honor them. I’ll write about my experience again when it is over.

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IHCPP 2014

Sunday: April 27, 2014

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I was sent this news article, regarding the International Human Cadaver Prosection Program (IHCPP): IUN Cadaver Study Program Draws Students from Across Nation, Globe.

I have begun reading the materials and I am very excited to be a part of this. I think it will be a life-changing event, not just for the educational skills, but also because I will be a part of something very special. Dr. T has also asked us to introduce ourselves to each other via email, and I am looking forward to meeting my fellow team members. Some have great experience already and all are very enthusiastic – lots of positive energy; I love it.

My semester is coming to an end – one more week then it’s finals. I will be revamping my syllabi according to the guidelines presenting in Teaching Unprepared Students and I will follow up my post about that soon.

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Human Cadaver Prosection

Saturday: April 19, 2014

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I have been accepted into the 2014 International Human Cadaver Prosection Program. I have almost applied pretty much every year since the early 2000’s but chickened out – not necessarily because of its topic alone, but because I never understood the schedule well enough to know how it would impact my job. This year, my job is much different, and there is more meaning behind the program for me now than just as a curiosity.

Now, as a trained bioarchaeologist, one of the things I lack in formal education is a true gross anatomy experience. This program offers a crash course in that, and then the ability to observe it in the real. In the program, prosectors will prepare the donors for IU medical students. There are also several workshops, including suturing and radiography.

I am excited to be able to add this to my education! Out of over 200 applicants, only 48 were accepted so it is an honor, as well. One of the items included in the application packet was a description of what the experience will mean to me. I had to think for quite some time on a response. In bioarchaeology, working with ancient skeletons easily removes the connection to an identity – it is too difficult to really understand what a person looked like in life, and the social relationships that were broken when they died. But with a donor, the identity of a face and body is clearly there, and one of the things I really appreciate about the program is that the donors’ families are involved in a memorial service. For the donor to have offered their body in death as an educational tool is such an openly intimate gift, and I struggled with answering the questions in the application in the short length requirements.

I don’t believe I will have any trouble with the training, either. As I may have mentioned before, I grew up with my grandparents offering butchering services for deer (and they butchered their own cows). I more recently witnessed an autopsy being performed. I was very uncertain how I would handle that – such a different context obviously than a deer for meat. I was awed, though I know I would not want to be the one to do that day after day after day. I’ve always been drawn to the dead and decaying – the process of how life returns to earth simply intrigues me, what can I say?

Just this past weekend, I found a scapula in my woodpile, a full pelvis (with sacrum) in the woods, and my neighbor gave me a chipmunk his cat had killed (it’s sitting out back waiting to decay). When I get a chance, I’ll clean the bones up and identify what species they are. One of the things I would seriously consider for returning to graduate school to get a doctorate is zooarchaeology. I really enjoy comparative osteology and the ability to find something out there and know what it was!

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