Friday, January 15, 2010

First Cadaver Day

Friday, January 15, 2010
As medical students, we are given many privileges over normal students. While I remember learning anatomy from a textbook in undergrad (often times with drawn rather than real pictures), we are given the unique opportunity to learn anatomy from actual bodies.

We started off by discussing dissections in general and talking about conduct around the laboratory. We were told the sacrifice and altruism the donors had when they donated their bodies. They were in full knowledge of what would happen to them and agreed to donate themselves after death to train a new generation of doctors.

We headed downstairs towards the basement, where our labs were situated and were given a chance to group up and find our cadavers we would be working with. Each station was equipped with a hand washing station and a monitor with which we could observe our instructors and the dissections they were doing.

Anticipating seeing a dead body for the first time, I was feeling a bit queasy and uneasy; however, what I found was that the cadaver was fairly far removed from what a human looks like when alive. The skin is hardened and frozen in place from the formaldehyde and the skin is just a shade of grey. The face is covered up and the only exposed areas were the torso.

Overall, I think today was a very humbling experience, to see the body of a deceased person, and also a very unique experience, one that only a few members of society will ever experience.

To end this post, I would like to post a thank-you to all those who donated their bodies and to the families of these people. Not only to my cadaver, but also to all the people out there, the medical schools cross-Canada and also internationally, that have made the altruistic sacrifice to help us learn.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Journeys

Monday, January 11, 2010
Have any of you ever worked like hell for something and when you finally get it, you realize the end-product isn't as important as you thought? But in self-reflection you find that the journey itself is what was truly important?

Let me take you through my experiences. Of course for the past few years, I've dedicated every waking moment to making it into medicine, to get that letter in the mail affirming my end goal of becoming a doctor. But in reflection, what was really important? Was it the piece of paper with patterns of black ink on it? Or was it rather the journey towards it, the experiences you had, the growth your character has experienced, and who you have become as a result of the journey that matters?

My journey towards my letter has hardly been a easy one. I've experienced crushing failures, gotten up from them, and learned from my mistakes. I still remember applying for my first time and receiving the letter of rejection. I had poured my blood, sweat, and tears into making it into medicine and having a letter telling me I wasn't good enough felt like being hit with a sack of bricks. While I moped and cried for a while, I realized that I could not give up, I needed to get up and try again. Looking back to this experience, I'm glad I was rejected, the failure (while it hurt) was one of the most useful experiences I could ever have had. I took a long hard look at myself and improved myself, made myself into a better person, and a better future doctor.

I sincerely believe that due to the journey, whether I had made it into medicine or not, I would have become a better person.

Now, I'm walking along another path, one where I know the outcome, but the path is hardly going to be easy. I've already hit obstacles already. I know that the next 6-9 years (residency + med school) will be tough, that I will stumble, and I will fall, but I know that after these years, I'm going to be a different person. A better person, and perhaps one that is equipped with the character to help make a difference in the world. And this time I know that it isn't just the MD that is important, but the experiences and the lessons that lead me to that MD.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

From Science to Emotion

Sunday, January 10, 2010
Throughout my undergraduate program medical school so far, I learned about human physiology and (to some extent) disease. I found the material interesting, but nevertheless bookish and abstract. It was intriguing to learn about masses growing in the brain, to read about case studies of patients in far away places and what behavioral deficits it resulted in. For instance the famous cases of HM (seizure patient, surgical intervention, leading to permanent loss of long term memory formation) and Phineas Gage (pole through the frontal lobes leading to a complete change in personality) that have probably been written about in every brain-related textbook in the past few decades.

But reading about these cases is so completely different than approaching a patient. It's so easy to sit in a room, discussing amongst doctors about an interesting brain tumor they find on a patient. But walking up to a human being, sitting down, and telling someone that they have brain cancer is a completely different story. As doctors have a multiplicity of times told me, you learn to separate yourself from the emotions, from the patient. But how do you do that, is it possible to completely distance yourself? I have thus far been lucky not to have seen someone get bad news and am far too early in the game to have given someone bad news, but how do you completely emotionally distance yourself from a situation like that? Back to the brain cancer example, you probably have sat down and given the person and maybe even the family, the worst news that they have ever heard in their lives. How do you not emotionally respond, how do you not empathize with that person?

But by the same token, we can't. Everyday, especially if you work in a hospital, you will be surrounded by people like this. You'll be walking from cancer patients to trauma patients to coma patients etc. If a doctor empathesized and felt the sorrow from every single person they saw, well they probably wouldn't last for too long...

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