"Anatomy Lab"

A student writes about anatomy lab

When I think of a team environment, the first thing that comes to my mind is Anatomy Lab.  All of a sudden you are thrown in with 4 or 5 other students that you have barely met. It is a huge adjustment, and it is a perfect example of what people outside the medical profession simply do not see or do or understand….The bonds I formed with my anatomy group are some of the closest friendships I have had in medical school.  Our strong ties were formed instantly.  It didn’t matter if we had to go through the same thing 8 times just so one person could finally understand it on the 9th try.

There were certainly days when all we wanted to do was leave the lab, but we always stayed for each other or took a break and came back later to make sure everyone learned the material.

For most of us, Anatomy lab was the first glimpse of mortality.  One of my friends became teary-eyed as we dissected the fingertips of our cadaver.  This seemed very personal and invasive to her, and I think it was then that she realized how significant what we were doing really was.  I was glad to be there to listen and give her a much needed hug.

The learning environment was incredible.  You couldn’t go a second without seeing either a TA or a professor, and they were all constantly willing to help.  They would sit down and explain the same things over and over again, and it was completely okay to say “I don’t get it.” There was never any hint of “you should know this.”  I didn’t get a 100% on every oral quiz, but I learned the material, and I never felt rushed or pressured or embarrassed.

Anatomy Lab taught me how absolutely essential it is to make connections with others.  I don’t think we are meant to go through life alone.  I just don’t think that’s what human beings are built for.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in being afraid of what you don’t know or worrying about making mistakes or having the wrong answers.  In anatomy lab you realize that you are not alone and that you are not the only one who doesn’t get something or who needs something explained over and over again.  You also realize what you are good at, and you learn to lean on your strengths.  One of my group members worked very diligently and produced excellent dissections that could have appeared in a textbook while another group member and I hacked away at important structures and basically tried to create nerves and vessels.  We learned to let him complete the intricate dissections on one side of the body, so that we would all have something to study from, while the rest of us tried our best to find structures on the other side.  I learned that I was a pretty good teacher.

Sometimes our personalities clashed, but when push came to shove, we were a team.  Medicine is not a solo profession.  You work with people over and over again, and the ultimate goal is to help someone else.

"Carefully Orchestrated"

A third-year student talks about a patient’s mother

When I was on one of my surgery subspecialty rotations, I came in early one morning to pre-round and found that my patient’s mother was crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that she really didn’t want her son to have surgery that day. He had been in the hospital for about 9 days after an accident with multiple injuries and had to have surgeries almost every day.

In the same accident, his cousin, who was also his best friend, died. The patient didn’t know that yet because he had never been awake and coherent enough for his parents to tell him. The mother was very distraught that her son would be having jaw surgery and would have his jaw wired shut and be unable to talk well for several weeks. There was some confusion and disagreement between the two parents and a lot of emotional stress on the mom. I went into the room, and she looked at me with her eyes full of tears and asked, “Isn’t there anything you can do?”

I was the med student and realized that this surgery was a very carefully orchestrated event that would involve plastic surgeons and ENT surgeons and OR staff and anesthesia and everybody else and that it had been quite a task to schedule it in the first place. As I looked at the patient and saw that he was completely sedated and really not so much aware of what was going on and looked at his mom and saw how upset she was, I realized that this patient just could not have the surgery that day. I decided that there had to be something that could be done, so at 5:00 in the morning I paged the ENT and Plastics residents to tell them that this surgery needed to not happen.

After several conversations with various residents and fellows and attending physicians and the patient’s parents, the surgery was rescheduled for the next day. Not everyone was happy about this since the surgery had been such a huge deal to organize. I felt like I had made my upper level resident really angry and probably stepped outside of my “med student role,” but I felt the need to stand my ground and support my patient’s mother.

When I went to see the patient and his parents the next morning, they were soooo much happier and still so tired, but so relieved and so much less distraught, and very very thankful to me and to the whole team for giving them that extra day to spend with their son. They were even able to talk to him about his cousin. It was a great experience because I learned to really be a patient advocate.

People really appreciate it when you take the time to listen to them and allow them to make decisions about their treatment and encourage them to have choices. I was so glad that I was able to stand up for what I believed in and not worry so much about how low I am on the totem pole but worry more about what I felt was right and what I needed to do to be able to sleep well at night. I think that’s very challenging as a med student, to be able to stick to your guns about things.

"A Donation"

A third year student talks about a patient and his family

I admitted a man who thought that he was coming in for a simple infectious disease and only a few days later found out that he actually had metastatic melanoma and wasn’t going to make it more than a few months, if that long.  It was quite the surprise for the patient and his family and quite a surprise for the team based on his presentation.  During his hospitalization, I was able to really get to know the family.  Each day, the wife would bring old pictures of the family to show me and the son would give me a hug as he walked out of the room.

One night, we had a lot of trouble with a cross-cover resident not taking care of pain for this patient.  It was nice to be able to quickly assure the family that that wasn’t ever going to be a problem again.

One evening, I was the last member of my team in the hospital, and I felt the need to check on this patient before I left because I knew that this might be the day he was going to pass away.  I arrived to find him dead.  He had apparently passed away about 2 minutes before I walked up the stairs.  I spent some time with his family in a conference room and then noticed that the nursing staff were preparing his body for the family to view.  I was able to go in and help pull out all the tubes and IV’s and do everything to get him ready, and then it was noted that the body was supposed to be donated to science.  I was totally humbled by this, and the family was overwhelmed, but it was just more evidence of how neat of a guy this was.