On Human Anatomy

Oh hell, I could write whole books on this alone I think.  When we were in college and travelling around to different medical schools, we would always be give a tour of the anatomy lab and almost in every case, we would walk into a room or cooler and come right close to a guy with a schwantz  that probably held records for size.  Definite shock value for the ladies. The first time one sees a dead person, he is changed.  And seeing them en masse as it were, added to that effect.  Then, getting to experience a body up close and personal….so personal your next step is a live body.  Our anatomy lab in PCO was a rather dark dank room…I can recall only two windows, with slate-like slabs with the bodys laying on them supine and wrapped in cloth to hold in the moisture of formalin and phenol.  It’s not really a pleasant smell but it didn’t take too long to get used to it and it wasn’t long before we were eating and dissecting at almost the same time. (yes, we changed hands or gloves or whatever).  Most of the bodys had 4 people assigned to them.  We were called “Doctor” from day one.  If only to get us both used to the word in that perspective as well as a push to encourage us to fulfill that dream.  The lab was a long rectangular room with shelving circling almost it’s entirety.  There were some cases with anatomical oddities, some of genetic origin, some of trauma and the human experience and lots of really weird stuff.  Not the least was many babies in bottles with every pathologic process you could imagine, and most of which we had never heard of.  There were lamp shades made of human skin with tattoos and lots and lots of bones.  I get enthused just thinking about this.  How very nostalgic.  The new med school on Main Line Philly was in no way even close to this….and I think they missed things.

My table only had 3 doctors at it.  Our body was a black male we named Ollie (from Kukla Fran and Ollie) because he only had one upper incisor showing prominently.  To the side of our table and back about 10 feet, was apparently the bottom of an L to make the rectangle “L” shaped.  There was a black curtain across the entry and we were never allowed to go back there.  We were told that is where they boiled the meat off the bones and otherwise manipulated the bodies to gather what anatomical anomalies they could save for demonstration, and then the remains were cremated.  We had a ceremony at the end of the year to acknowledge the lives of the people who had helped us so very much on our way to understanding the human state.  It was indeed wonderful.

So, one story comes to mind at the moment.  Our bodies were injected with latex rubber…red in arteries and blue in veins.  It made dissection so much easier.  And we Really learned anatomy….right down to the branch of the branch of the branch.  So, at the end of the year, when I was called to go behind the curtain by Dr. George Court, a general surgeon who was one of the instructors.  He showed me a body of a male lying supine and slightly to the side in an open fetal position.  His abdomen was open from the xiphoid to the pubes.  Dr Court said, “Ok doctor, show me the spleen”.  I was dumbstruck.  The spleen in perspective is really a huge anatomical thing.  I had studied down the minutia and he was asking me for the Grand Canyon.  Ok…I dove in and looked for the spleen thinking “this is bizarre”!!  I didn’t find it.  I said, it must have been removed.  He said, you’re an anatomist or a forensic pathologist…is there a surgical scar?  I looked, and didn’t find any.  Nope.  He said, “Now you’re a surgeon, this spleen is bleeding and has to be removed and what do you do.  I suggested he didn’t have one as in being born without.  He asked me the probability, which I agreed was dang rare.  So I looked again, and discovered and I mean Really an enlightenment type of discovery, Complete Situs Inversus.  There is a small percentage of people who are born with all their organs in various degrees, on the opposite side of the body.  It was wonderful and I was fortunate enough to experience this surgically on live patients twice in my years of surgery.  More stories on that to come.

4/5/12  Memories come to me slowly.  We were in the anatomy lab of PCO as I described above.  Only 3 guys to our body and the course was an entire year.  We got to know Ollie pretty well.  We named him Ollie because he had only one tooth, upper central incisor…as in Kukla, Fan, and Ollie…a puppet program popular on old b/w tv.   We had dissected him right and proper, memorizing more stuff than one would think Legal.  He impressed me every time I got near him.  Even with the skin peeled away and muscles detached and veins and arteries exposed he was still a human being. The head was the last thing we studied and the day came to study the eyes.  Normally the eye loses its fluid and so the eyelids sink in.  We peeled his eye open and literally jumped back with a loud exclamation.  Here was an eye looking right back at us…instead of a sunken shriveled like the others.  We had discovered that he had a glass eye.  REally freaky.

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