Today, I cut into a human arm.
October 15, 2012 § 4 Comments
Now that we have completed our osteology midterms, we are ready to work our way up the “pyramid” of anatomy. On our syllabus it stated that today’s lesson would consist of a dissection of the upper limb. Since today was our first day after the midterm, we were quite unsure of what to expect. We didn’t know whether we were going to be discussing the muscles and joints in theory, or just jumping right in. It was the latter.
Last night I spent more time than I should have searching for the scalpel I purchased at the beginning of the year. After I turned up empty, I resigned to setting my alarm an hour earlier so that I could stop at the NET building before anatomy lab and purchase a new one. I wasn’t sure if I would need it, but I wanted to be ready just in case.
Our lab began with an introduction to the joints by the head of anatomy for the English department of medicine. Our professor is at a conference in the states, so she was there for the first part of class. Rather than explain the joints to us with a wooden pieces, she opened a tub full of real specimens. The smell of formaldehyde in the room was already strong enough, but this tub just took it to a whole new level. We stood up straight in our lab coats and gloves as she demonstrated the different movements using her own limbs and then using some of the specimens. After she left, our teaching assistant gave a little deeper explanation of the shoulder girdle (shoulder joint) before we began our dissections.
As the group was too large to all be crowded around the dissection table, we split into two groups: one to study the joints and the other to begin dissecting the arm. I couldn’t help but push my way into the dissecting group. As our teaching assistant removed the leg and arm from the plastic bag, I found myself in a sort of state of shock. I have never seen any part of a dead human before today and my first time did not disappoint. It is such an out of body experience, one that I can only relate to seeing an accident happening and not being able to do anything about it.
After the arm and leg were on the dissecting tray, our TA told us to “go for it”. We all stood there, trying to decipher what it was that he wanted us to do. In order to give us a little direction, he cut three sides of a rectangular section in both the arm and forearm. The smell of the formaldehyde was so strong that it stung our eyes and tickled our throats. It was almost like smelling menthol and cutting onion at the same time. Rather than get caught up in the utter strangeness of the situation and in the physical effects of the formaldehyde, I told myself to get used to it and just get in there. Another girl in our group, Martha from Norway, had already pulled back most of the skin and began cutting away at the fat. I asked if I could try my hand at it and began carefully cutting away the fat and exposing the fascia, a thin white layer between the fat and muscle that looks A LOT like cotton. It was such an amazing experience to see first-hand what the inside of the arm looks like. To explore its contents and put together all the details we’ve read about in our books. I feel lucky to be in the group that I am in because we are all so team-oriented. Everyone that wanted to dissect got a chance to do so and we were all involved even when not dissecting.
Before we knew it, lab was over. We sprayed the partially dissected arm with a disinfectant spray and then tied it by cutting small holes in the skin pieces and weaving a thin twine through the holes to keep the skin down. Skjalg was waiting for me outside with a smile on his face. This is the closest we’ve felt to being medical students – and it feels amazing!
Now it’s off to study for my chemistry midterm tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!