The skull beneath the skin
September 28, 2012 § 2 Comments
The weight of the third week rests heavy on my shoulders. Rather than rejoicing at the tangibility of the weekend, I am busy devising a plan that will maximize this opportunity to catch up. Midterms are only a week away and the list of exam topics within each subject is enough to cost me sleep at night. There is simply not enough time to be on top of all of the classes – and this is something I am not alone in. The level of information thrown at us each day is unlike anything I have ever experienced. I am forced to adjust my study tactics daily and have to accept that perfection is not an option. All you can do is strive for your best and accept the level to which you performed during that time. There is no time to rewrite your notes or make up a missed anatomy lecture.
In anatomy we are focusing on osteology for the first five weeks. In the first two weeks, we learned the bones of the body: humerus, radius, ulna, hand and wrist, scapula, clavicle, vertebrae, rib cage, sternum, pelvic bone, sacrum and coccyx, femur, patella, tibia, fibula, tarsus, calcaneous and foot. For each bone we need to be able to orient it in the body and describe the surface features, including which bones it articulates (moves) with. Here is an example of the parts we need to be able to identify and describe for the femur, the thigh bone:
We were expected to memorize the surface features and orientations of every bone in the body within the first two weeks of school – how is that for pressure? Then comes the skull. The crown jewel of all bones. A structure so complicated that we need three weeks to study it. Three weeks for the skull vs. two weeks for the rest of the body. Not only do we need to know the names of the surface features, but we need to know to where and from where the different holes and canals lead.
The worst part about studying the skull is actually getting time alone with a real skull. It is such a complicated structure that 2D pictures and books fall short. The plastic skull that Skjalg and I purchased a couple weeks ago is a great tool, but lacks the smaller, less defined details and the passageways through the skull are not complete. During our anatomy labs, we have access to three skulls that must be shared among the 15 members of our group. My group is great when it comes to sharing and helping one another out, but one-on-one time with the skull is really the best way to learn it. After my medical chemistry lab yesterday morning, I headed straight for the anatomy museum, intent on filling the 3 hour break between my lectures with a human skull. Alas, all the skulls were taken and I settled on a pelvic bone and temporal bone (a part of the skull). All the tables were taken, so I had to ask two Hungarian students if I could join them at their table, which was pleasantly situated next to a case displaying twenty or so deformed fetuses in jars.
The anatomy museum closes for lunch and I made sure that I was at the front of the line when they opened again. I was going to get a skull, no matter what! When I entered the museum, I saw they had spread all 15 skulls on the entry desk, rather than place them back in the case (skulls are popular these days). Because of this, I was able to pick the best one and then settle in for a nice, cozy 4.5 hour study session. I ended up skipping my 45-minute statistics lecture, after checking with Skjalg that I could get the notes from him later. In case anyone is wondering, yes, the bones smell. Especially the skull. It has a musty, sour smell that really tests your study motivation every time you pull it closer to your face to inspect a groove or canal. I was feeling a bit bad for myself until I watched the attendant open a case and pull out an entire preserved arm – complete with muscle tissue and dangling veins and arteries – which she then passed off to a gloved 2nd year student. I’m sure my cleaned skull smelled a lot better than her dissected arm.
Speaking of fun smells, we had quite a great find in our anatomy lab on Wednesday. Our anatomy labs take place in the dissection rooms where we use the dissection tables as desks until we begin dissecting in week 6. The tables are cold metal with grooves from all corners descending towards a large hole that opens over a red bucket – the discard bucket. Several minutes into our lab, I noticed an odd smell. A quick glance at the student seated next to me confirmed that I wasn’t the only one smelling it. We both looked down to the red bucket under the table. It was half full of human remains from a previous dissection. You really can’t complain about something like that when you are in medical school, I mean, that’s why you are there, right? We allowed ourselves a small cringe of disgust and then resumed our lab with the bucket of remains hanging out at our feet.
It’s now Friday night and I’m off to work on my lab reports for the labs we did today. After last week, I’ve learned that finishing them the same day is a huge time saver. I spent almost 5 hours on Wednesday night trying to figure out my calculations for my medical biophysics Optics of the Eye lab – time wasted! It feels a bit weird to be sitting at home working on lab reports while what seems like the rest of the city readies for a fun Friday night. But honestly, with the amazing company that I have, there is no place I would rather be 🙂