Anatomical Position

How dissecting a cadaver reminded me of being alive

During the first two years of medical school, many hours are spent in the anatomy lab. A protective coping mechanism when learning from cadavers is to become detached. Forgetting that they were once living human beings may seem deranged, but somehow it can make things easier. 

My exam on the musculoskeletal system was fast approaching. It was the final anatomy test of my second year of medical school. Alone in the lab, I was getting some late night studying in. More specifically, my eyes were following the path of the flexor digitorum profundus up to the distal interpharyngeal joints of the fingers. It was difficult to get a proper view, so I moved apart the fingers to fully appreciate the tendons’ pathways. 


I realized that I was holding someone’s hand, each of my fingers nestled between each of hers. Our nails were painted a similar shade of pink. With our palms gripped together, a wave of energy flooded over my body, like some kind of electric shock running straight from my hand to my foot. Face flushed and breathless, I abruptly released my grasp and jumped to a stance. 


Scanning the room, I saw dozens of zipped-up bagged corpses. Each was waiting patiently for its turn to teach. A cluster of twenty fully assembled skeletons stood on display, each positioned slightly differently. One had her jaw wide open, as if in disbelief of what her friend was saying. Another held his head slightly tilted to the right, considering an idea. One was set apart from the group, pensive and looking out the window, wondering what was coming next. 


I looked back down at the cadaver, stepped closer and took her hand again.  


Thank-you. Thank-you for reminding me what I was doing. 

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