THE DISSECTION HALL

Shantalanil
Shantalanil / 7 yrs ago /
  15

The apprehensive silence mutated to a mesmerized muteness as one after another, the shrouds were jerked off the bodies. There must have been about eight or ten bodies-for there were nearly one hundred and fifty of us, being assigned sixteen to one. Eight students to each side of the corpse give or take three or two students or half or three quarters of a semi dissected cadaver.

          The daze of seeing the cadaver for the first time was distracted by the harsh, pompous voice of the tutor who wanted to get done with taking the roll call of a hundred and fifty freshers, number by number. He went about assigning the cadavers to the batches with an air of doing the utmost good to the lowest down trodden. Another tutor, albeit less stern faced trooped in and in a booming voice, which probably would have echoed in that large hall if it were not for the assortment of the living and dead, proceeded to instruct.

          If any of us were expecting to be guided about the maiden approach towards studying the cadavers, and almost all of us were, we were in for a major misunderstanding. "All....open your Cunningham's manuals....start reading. Page one to eighteen," was all the pearls of wisdom we were worthy of, on that first day in medical college! As stern and sterner faced 'guides' settled to gossip at the only table at the entrance of the dissection hall, the greenhorns were expected to quietly pore over the manual.

          And was it an experience! Not being able to raise our heads and look around-not half as eager to evaluate the equally scared peers as to have a good look at the motionless bodies on the cold, steel table before us! Yet gradually, one by one, either casually or as if referring from the book, we got the real first glimpse of 'our' bodies. For me it was neither scary nor awe inspiring. Probably because I was so ignorant that I hadn't given a prior thought as to what to expect in a corpse! Though it did not abhor, it indeed was an inquisitive scene.

          Whatever ideas of the dissecting room we had, it could not be as distant from the real view of what lay before us.  All the cadavers had been duly processed before being provided for dissection and the processing left them not different from the dried twigs of a tree- black, stiff and the greatest relief- not half as intimidating as our tutors!

          Our guy was all of four limbs and as yet totally an undissected "fresh' cadaver. As months would roll by, he would gradually impart to us what the anatomies of the human body were and steadily, eventually get dismantled limb after limb, organ after vital organ until...And that is the memory I have of him this day....fourteen months post dissection- a mere limbless torso, skull sawed and brain removed; chest cage ripped apart at the breast bone and the heart and lungs dismembered leaving a gaping cavern. His face is another undying memory. His jaw was half open revealing a neat line of teeth with two or three missing members, the skin of his face drawn tight against the underlying facial bones giving him a curious, grinning expression- which has always been beyond my comprehension.... 

          It was a good two days of reading and re-reading Cunningham's before the brass tacks of dissection. And I must confess that the first twenty three pages of the manual were the toughest comprehension passages I had or may ever read! When they said dorsal and supine for spread eagle, anterior or posterior for just front or back; lateral for sides, it was just about understandable. But medial, sagital, coronal, axial were all as Latin or German in pronunciation as in comprehension! The description of movements as abduction, adduction, flexion, circumduction, extension added to the mounting tension. Surely, reading the first few pages was a humbling experience for one whose head was swollen with eighty two percent in English in the twelfth standard!

          If you thought that the dissection began from the head and completed with the toe, you are wrong. We started with the palm, proceeded to the breast (for the lack of which in our specimen, we had to make do watching another batch dissect their bosom) then the forearm, axilla, thigh-all in a disorderly order!

          The first few days we wore rubber gloves and rubbed shoulders and tempers to get hands on training of the palm. The gloves were either too large or small, not to mention the tragic-comedy of wiggling the corresponding fingers into the un-powdered stuck up sacs. Parallel to the dissection, we dissected each others skills and knowledge too and not exactly related to medicine. Good old Cunningham who kept constant company with three volumes over eighteen months was ubiquitous- on our laps as we sat studying, on the steel table and even on the corpse itself!

          As we dissected the palm, we were expected to identify the palmar aponeurosis, the fascia reticularis, the palmar arch, the median nerve and many other bigger tongue twisters. Thus reading and seeing or imagining the structures that were being dissected, I found myself staring at people's palms in all public places-the bus stand, library, while shopping, the flower vendor-the list grew. And the next week when the time table on the notice board said, Dissection- The Breast, I was mortified! Imagine ogling at lemons, oranges and water melons in public! And also by the end of two weeks all but a handful of us had done away with the gloves. Now we really felt the tissues sans the interfering rubber. And that was when the skin of my palms started peeling.

          No medical student can ever recall a dissection theatre without the pervasive formalin. It is this acrid liquid that is used to preserve the cadavers and is the culprit reducing them to skin and twigs appearance. Huge tanks overflowing with gallons of formalin house the cadavers during the after dissection hours. And on Monday mornings, when the bodies are hauled out and laid for dissection, the fumes come on in full fury stinging eyes and irritating the nose. The smell so persists in us long after leaving the hall, that by the end of the term it lingers on within us like the fragrance of togetherness! The palms' peeling off is no longer as hotly discussed as the course of the ulnar nerve or the boundaries of the inguinal canal. By the end of a year, even lunch is being discussed and shared in the Anatomy hall!

          Nagaraj, our dissection hall maintenance man was in fact the only person probably all of us had felt obligated to befriend at the earliest and to continue the rapport. He knew where we would get the set of human bones (we all needed to purchase one set each for the study of Human Osteology- study of human bones). He even had begun supplying sets which came at a slightly lower price, though no one had the reason or the inquisitiveness to ask about the source of his bone sets. He not only supplied whole sets but also supplemented the bones that were missing from our sets, of course for a price.

          As I once juggled with eight bones of the wrist (the carpal bones), none larger than a goose berry, deciding what each one was, and more confusingly, if all of them belonged to the right or the left, set or assorted, male or female, Nagaraj appeared as a messiah. Thumbing through them he began placing one by one, easily ranting off their names- Scaphoid, lunate, triquetral, pisiform, tapezius, trapezoid, capitate and hamate! And lo! All of them nestled so beautifully that I could imagine the muscle, tendons and skin over them completing the picture of a neat right wrist! (I later learnt a mnemonic for it- She Looks Too Pretty Try To Catch Her- obviously made up by some mischievous starved male)As freshmen, being already intimidated by the volumes and intricacies of our books, hearing him so fluent in anatomy made up our minds as to who would be the correct person to approach at times of internal assessments and major exams.

          What started as a handful of students approaching him for help gradually waxed in numbers and by the end of three terms, there was not a single student in our class who had not approached Nagraj for some sort of assistance. And Nagraj too had enough smartness to encash his services for currency. He was more sought after than our tutors- for which the latter were relieved or envious I could never know.

          I had often been intrigued by this man running the corpse show in our dissection hall since so long. He was probably in his mid thirties and his family even lived a few meters from the dissection hall, in a small shed. He would haul the bodies out from the formalin tank single handedly, and drop them back in there every Saturday afternoon. I marveled at his ability to place the same body on the same table on Monday mornings.

          As ours was a government college, we were naturally entitled to all the unclaimed bodies in the nearby government hospital. It was Nagaraj's duty to collect the body from the hospital when intimated. He was prompt to process and add it to his tank collection. With the advent of private medical colleges and the demand for bodies steadily on the increase he was over-enthusiastic, and he paid for it once.

          My eyes didn't miss his faux pas once, though I suspect he kept the incident out of ear shot of the H.O.D. He had brought a body from the hospital (so he claimed), and having shaved it, was in the process of treating it with formalin when he received news that the unfortunate dead man indeed had relatives who were, at this very moment, entering the far end of the college campus and were making it to the dissection hall! The news galvanized our man and he set about his damage control measures!

          A new white shroud materialized and the body was respectfully wrapped in it. Some ally of his darted off to the flower market and had bought generous strings of colourful garlands. And finally the cortege left the courtyard of the dissection hall. A handful of mourners following a horse drawn closed cart (Tonga) that carried the corpse as a whole packet of incense sticks wafted off a heavenly fragrance. Had it not been for Nagaraj's blunder, the dead fellow could not have had a better send off.

          But there were some people, who wished to continue to serve the society rather than just lie inside their graves. One such generous soul/body was of a doctor's. He had donated his body for bettering the knowledge of his junior colleagues. Though he was dissected with utmost reverence and gratitude, a few unkind words were sometimes heard. It was rumored that the study of his body was an anthology of anomalies that could ever possibly be in the human body! The doctor had lived his good life in an aberrant body!

          During those days, the dissection hall of the Anatomy department seemed to be no more than a compulsory training in the curriculum course of medicine. However, looking back today, I realize there were so many untaught, but naturally learnt lessons in those eighteen months.

          Forbearance, the mother of all virtues first sowed her seeds here. We had to put up with an assortment of batch mates from day one till the completion. The girl who grabbed scalpel and forceps from others' hands, the slow gentleman, the not so bright midget, the icy dragon...Being in the same batch was the only common reason to work with and not against each other, the latter indulged in after dissection hours! Today I can tolerate the most boring or tenacious or sloppy patient or human being because I started learning in the dissection hall.

          Dissection also taught perseverance. We had to understand the intricacies of the body before getting down to dissecting it. Understanding the greater sac-lesser sac, arguing about the cornea and sclera, and discussing the formation of the arches-all contributed to cracking the mystery of the body bit by slogging bit. If the concept was not clear, then any amount of dissection could not show us what we wanted to see. (`The eyes do not see what the mind does not know' is another favourite adage of the medicos) So today I know not to give up on a patient- at least till I have exhausted my acumen, referred books, browsed the net, discussed with peers and did everything possible to get to the bottom of a problem.

          And the greatest, most important lesson for the life of a doctor- respect of the human body. We owe it to those corpses who lay patiently tutoring us the marvels of the Creation, the beauty of the architecture and reverence to the most awe inspiring creation-the Human body!  

                    

           





dinesh gupta / / 7 yrs ago
dinesh gupta

that was a goo, lucid writing. keep it up!


IAMOKUOK / / 7 yrs ago
IAMOKUOK

dear shantala-anil,

i can relate to your experience. i had dissected a frog for my plus two zoology practicals and it was a " live" specimen too.  quite nauseating though but some of my non-veg friends were nonchalant, having seen "it all" in their kitchen with hen, fish, crabs, beef etc

the best lines i liked in your blog was " respect for human body" being imbibed by would be doctors after dissecting dead bodies. what an irony. respect of living developed after seeing the bodies of dead.

friendly regards
s.seshadri


IAMOKUOK / / 7 yrs ago
IAMOKUOK

dear shanta-anil,

i can relate to your experience. i had dissected a frog for my plus two zoology practicals and it was a " live" specimen too.  quite nauseating though but some of my non-veg friends were nonchalant, having seen "it all" in their kitchen.

the best lines i liked in your blog was " respect for human body" being imbibed by would be doctors after dissecting dead bodies. what an irony. respect of living developed after seeing the bodies of dead.

friendly regards
s.seshadri


Shantalanil / / 7 yrs ago
Shantalanil

dear kamalji,

            it doesn’t matter if you did not understand the medical jargon. i can assure you that many of us still don’t understand our patients’ maladies after so many years. and humility is yet another virtue medical school taught us.

            thank you for reading my latin blog and commenting kindly on it. coming from an avid blogger, i feel honoured.

            knowing how much about friends you write, it was no surprise that you read my ‘vanishing friend’ blog. i still have not figured out an answer for-will you send your wife to your male gynaec friend.

            how did you enjoy the claret wine i had sent you long back?

 

dear cerabella,

            for a cow, you have a great vocabulary. you guys were better off. at least you had a dean or some chief address you on the first day. we were country cattle-just herded into a room and pounced upon unceremoniously.

            thanks for ur comments.

 

dear g.i. surgeon,

            isn’t it a pity that students these days are missing out on the dissection? i wonder if it is same pithing frogs for muscle nerve preparation in physiology and using rabbits for mydriatics. with the advent of computer surgeries and diagnosis, future students of medicine may only need to take and pass theory exams and advanced computer subjects!

            thanks for your comments.

 

dear swarajya, rajan, animagi, prema raja, watch doggie, dr. madhavi, srinath girish, poetbittersweet,

            glad you all liked the blog.  i had written it many months ago, not really meaning it for public viewing. all the experiences during my medical school-dissection hall, operating theatres, ward rounds....- are pent up within me, waiting to flow out. even so, i fell i have not expressed myself complete in my blog. some memories probably are beyond words.  


CVRajan / / 7 yrs ago
CVRajan

very well written and quite informative for a mechanical engineer like me.
 
the character of nagaraj has been beutifully portrayed.
 
bye
 
cv rajan


prema Raja / / 7 yrs ago
prema Raja

hi,

excellent post....you just brought about everythingthat happened in your lab in front of our eyes...very good writing style...keep up!!!

 

regards


swarajya / / 7 yrs ago
swarajya

your blog gave me insight to the dissection hall experience of the new students.it must have been really tough to remember all medical names of parts.it is interesting that some catchy sentences are used to remember them.how sad that the unclaimed bodies are totally disfigured by dissection?i learned that the live dogs were also being given for dissection at  later stages and the dogs used to die on the table.this practice has probably been discontinued.is it true that islam does not allow dissection of muslim   dead bodies?the dissection of palms , faces and sexual organs probably arouse the deepest emotional sentiments.anyway doctors face the dead and so may not be affected by death.
the article has brought out the tough dissection part in utmost clarity.


Watchdog 123 / / 7 yrs ago
Watchdog 123

dissection truly dissected.


animagi / / 7 yrs ago
animagi

shantalanil,
 
though i am no doctor, i could understand all the emotions, lessons and travails of your dissection, mainly because your narration was wonderful and heartfelt. my respect for doctors just grew, reading your blog, how difficult it is, to pursue medicine and what all you people need to face. good post!


cerabella / / 7 yrs ago
cerabella

haha. it reminded me of my own experiences. i had blogged on it earlier. check it out if you want to know my take on ol'e cadddies.

 

 
bella


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