Written in a narrative medicine group at Temple- this is one of my first pieces about medical school.
An interesting conversation occurred this Thanksgiving, when I went to visit a family friend. I found that automatically, as I spoke, my thoughts and words drifted back to my experiences these last few months. And so, over a dinner of turkey and mashed potatoes, I was talking about my cadaver. Some looked at me in horror, some in disgust, and some in a sort of awe. Most in some combination thereof. They asked me how it felt to have your hands deep in someone’s remains, if I felt queasy, if my hands shook. All the while there were murmurs, “inappropriate Thanksgiving conversation” and “Yeah, talk about cutting dead people like meat while I eat turkey.”
So in deference to some of those opinions, I spoke of cheerier subjects- health care reform, politics, football, cricket. Yet later, as we sat sipping Shiraz at the fireplace, our talk again turned to the morbid nature of my calling. I found myself giving accounts of the ED- of patients with AAA’s and sub-arachnoids; my experience in he psych ward where someone was brought in for having sex with a cat; and the psychiatrist’s gallows humor- asking what breed the cat was to see if the act constituted bestiality. I spoke of how comfortable my lab group became with our cadaver; leaning over and resting an arm on her as we scoured her abdomen for the superior mesenteric artery.
And as I spoke of all these things, I wondered where my past self had disappeared. The person who before med school would talk at length about Dostoevsky and Nietzsche; not aortic dissections and canker sores. I wondered at the ease and even the glee with which I had recounted stories of gun shot wounds and PCP addicts- of lives torn apart and limbs rent by the violence I was becoming accustomed to. I wondered, was I in the name of learning to “fix” humans, giving up my humanity?
This means of cloistering one’s mind, one’s emotions from one’s work is a survival mechanism in medicine. Or so I’ve been told. One must wonder- is the cost perhaps too high?