Why you should care
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Dr. Jeffrey Laitman
I spent a good chunk of time today dealing with the procurement of cadavers. I run Mount Sinai’s Anatomical Gift program, which has folks sign up to be used eventually for medical education and research. You might think, Oh my goodness, this is a bit ghoulish. But it’s a heart-warming thing. In some Asian countries, the cadaver is referred to as “great teacher.” As biomedicine grows and grows, anatomical donation is the one thing that doesn’t change.
I segue my med students into dealing with the cadaver in the course “Structures.” We have other very good ways of learning what the parts of the body look like, but nothing equals the enormity of laying hands on a cadaver who is, in many ways, your first patient. We begin with a module on the skin and muscles of the back, vertebral column, and spinal cord. The back is a relatively non-complicated area to begin with, and viewing it is amongst the least difficult emotionally for a beginning student to encounter — the body is face down in order to do this dissection.
It’s OK to faint.
In the past, anatomists were given a funky name — pylorae. Pylorus is a portion of the stomach that means “gatekeeper.” We’re the gatekeepers.
It’s OK to faint. When students don’t feel good, I tell them to walk around, take a break. Dissection can trigger a lot of memories. If a loved one passed away from abdominal cancer, that day’s dissection can be emotionally difficult.
We just held our year-end ceremony for the students to thank the cadavers, where they read from their sacred texts and scriptures. The students came up like a biblical pairing of two: two Orthodox Jews, two observant Catholics, two devout Hindus and so on. The class often reads poems or sings songs, just to have some closure, but also to say thanks.
The students never make fun of cadavers, but they can be funny in how they deal with me, especially as I’ve gotten older; I’m 63. I recently went to the emergency room with a piece of glass stuck in my finger, blood gushing everywhere. Four residents, three my former students, came over. Once they recognized me, one said, “Dr. Laitman, you always taught us to be very specific: Know the facts, look at the entire picture. And I think we should be very thorough. Let’s schedule him for a prostate exam. We should scope him trans-urethrally.”