Oct 12, 2008


On better days we would follow the book fairly quickly and have the prize seen before the lab session ends. On not-so-good days we would stumble with every variation - blood vessel, nerve or lymph node - sometimes concealed in fat and connective tissue, and we would be lagging behind.
On this not-so-good day we were scheduled to saw through the backbone. Our aim - to see the spinal cord bedded within it. Tired, agitated and yearning for a recess, I was impatiently and blindly separating the deep back muscles - instead of separating the jumble of fibers into three portions, the mass got divided into two. The softness and tenderness of the muscle mass doesn't help in identifying the three muscles.
Then, of course, came the lambasting. It lasted for approximately 5 minutes, where I just stared blindly on my work of art. Fatigue overpowering me, I did not say anything in my defense but followed everything the teacher said.
At times the small muscles of the body are a mere pea hidden in between the grooves and folds. It takes just two look at it to snap it off. However, losing these muscles would be catastrophic for the living - breathing, rotating the body, lateral rotation (as in the motion of swifting left and right when you shoulder each other and sing "would all acquaintance be forgot...").
The worse came when we were to saw off the backbone. It was a motion requiring force, in other words, a barbaric act. My teammate hammer the chisel through and through while I swing the bones, held together by thick ligaments, until it splits with a crack. The triumphant feeling of moving from step 1 to step 2 is not as overwhelming as seeing the rugged and sawed off backbone strewn at the corner. The sacrifice our silent mentor made was well beyond my initial expectations - they were too great to be credited by words or even prayers alone.
As the lab session progresses I became slowly acquainted with Mdm. Lee. Her conus medullaris ends at vertebral level L2; she had a beautiful palm; her palmaris brevis is just barely visible but it was as tough as a seashell; her lungs - the primary site of her cancer, had been infiltrated with the invasive cells - all the way from the hilum to the inferior lobe, as well as the superficial lymph plexus overlying it (pardon me for the medical terms). It is through her bodily features that we slowly get to know her. Things that distinguish her from others which we would spend time finding out on what caused her exclusivity. Just an interesting note - Mdm. Lee's suprascapular artery runs together with the suprascapular nerve under the superior transverse scapular ligament - the textbook dictates the artery running above the ligament.
It is unimaginable how much others sacrificed for the education of an MD. It isn't the best job in the world but it has to be the most expensive and extensive to train - because it deals with life and death; because these are human beings. The list of thank-yous would stretch on and on, but it must begin with my parents, all the teachers at school, and this very special mentor who contributed more than anatomical knowledge.

And finally, just for the fun of knowing...