Midterms, cadavers and surgery – oh my!

March 6, 2013 § 4 Comments

Midterms have begun and the days have the added pressure of an upcoming examination. Yesterday was our midterm in biochemistry. Unfortunately, I did not feel prepared enough by Tuesday morning and decided to skip the lectures leading up to the midterm. Skipping lectures is really not something I want to make a habit of, so much so that I am just going to confirm right here and now that no habit will be made. Going to lectures keeps me on top of my game and forces me to review the topics.

After histology lab on Monday, my friend Jannie and I headed to Costa Coffee for a study session. From noon until closing at 22:00, we worked through the calculations in our calculation book, reviewed some structures and discussed a bit of theory. When I got home afterwards, I found Skjalg practicing structures on the white board. His professor gives them weekly quizzes on the structures, so he knows them a lot better than I do. I need to be better about studying a couple of them every day, but it is so hard to prioritize it when you have all your other classes to worry about. Compared to last semester, the structures are complicated! For this exam, we needed to memorize the amino acids, amino acid derivatives, carbohydrates, and carbohydrate derivatives.

Here’s an idea of what we are dealing with when it comes to structures. You might think this seems like a lot – imagine 9 pages of these suckers. About 80-90 structures total -_-

Some amino acids….

amino acids sample

Some amino acid derivatives…

amino acid derivatives

Some carbohydrates….

carbohydrates sample

and finally, carbohydrate derivatives.

carbohydrate derivatives sample


This morning we had an anatomy lecture on the stomach, which was followed by anatomy lab. We are now working with a full cadaver. When they unveiled him last Friday, it was the first time I had ever seen an entire dead body. Up until now we have been working on separate limbs, thorax and organs. It is easy to put it out of your head and focus solely on the anatomy, but there are times when I look at his face and wonder about the life he lived up until he found himself on our dissection table. It is during those times that I am fully aware of just how surreal the experience is. The worst part about it is really the expression on his face. His head is twisted upwards and his face is contorted in a sort of pain/relief expression, his mouth open revealing toothless gums. Well, not completely toothless…but there are only two. The cadavers are prepped for a year before we dissect them. To prepare them, embalming fluid is circulated throughout the body through arteries, as well as injected into necessary areas. Then the body is sealed and stored until dissection time comes around.


To close out today’s classes, we had our medical professionalism lecture. We have a couple electives this semester that are easy to mix up and have us more confused than necessary – medical professionalism, medical communications and medical informatics. So far, medical professionalism has consisted of weekly lectures where each week introduces us to a new department/specialty: cardiology, general medicine, pediatrics, etc. Today was my favorite – surgery! And if that wasn’t cool enough, the lecturer was amazing! She was so passionate about being a surgeon and so personable that it made the entire lecture seem like it was only 5 minutes long. The room began to stir when she presented one of her surgical cases to us: a man with Fournier gangrene, a necrotizing bacterial infection of the genital area. He had had rectal cancer and became infected after undergoing a surgery in which 20 cm of his colon was removed. This was one of those lectures that all 1st year students attend together, so you can imagine that not all 250 or so students enjoyed watching the series of pictures depicting the infection and subsequent surgery flashing before their eyes. (In case you haven’t done it already, google at your own risk.)

To close out the lecture, she gave us a little taste of her life as a surgeon. She shared pictures of her time working in Italy, in England, in Venezuela, in Africa, and finally in Japan. I was so in awe of the experiences she has had and felt such a deep sense of inspiration. I’ve always been told that being a doctor opens up the doors to the world, but I’m only now realizing just how true that is.

We stayed after the lecture had ended, hoping to get a chance to talk to her – and we weren’t the only ones (shout out to Clare, Sofie and Avneesh 😉 ). She had mentioned during her lecture that we were welcome to visit her department, to “try ourselves”. When I brought this up to her, she lit up and leaned in as if we were sharing some secret. “You can come whenever you want! You can come tomorrow! Just send me an email and if I don’t answer just show up. I can take two or three at a time, not too many more because I can’t have so many of you with me in the operating room.” We will definitely be paying her a visit – and soon! We just need to find a time in the morning when we can do it, which will be difficult considering that we start at 8 pretty much every day of the week.

Now I am off to work on my biophysics study guide, since our midterm is bright and early Monday morning. Until next time!


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