Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day One


Last night I struggled with insomnia. It took me 90 seconds rather than the usual 30 to fall asleep. Needless to say, I was anxious about my first day of class.

I got up before my alarm, which is usually the start to a good day. I made a sandwich and packed my lunch, pretending like I'm going to have time to do that this year. A tasty roast beef sandwich with fresh tomatoes, onions and lettuce, topped with mild cheddar, olive oil, vinegar, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Mmmmmm. It took me 1/2 an hour that I didn't have to make my lunch. I'll be quicker tomorrow.

Off to class!

I got out the door at about 8:30 for a 9:00 class. Another beautiful bike ride across a beautiful campus with beautiful weather (forebodingly warm at a quarter to nine) put me in an even better mood. I sat down next to two amazingly cool people in the front row of my first class ever at Medical school and got ready to start. The lecturer came in and started talking about the history of molecular biology. What surprised me was 1) he was a good speaker, 2) he actually wanted us to learn 3) he was funny 4) we talked about how prions are basically exactly the same as the Borg in Star Trek, a point we expanded for about 10 minutes. So I was sold on my Molecular Bio professor.

After two incredibly interesting hours of class, we went on to a Cells to Tissues class. The lecturer here started at about 25% the speed of light and never slowed down. This class was also very interesting. We talked about cells and stem cells (normal ones in adults) and how powerful they are. I am continually blown away (and expect this will not end) by how incredibly well designed the human body is. One reason why stem cells stay so rare is to minimize copying errors; they only grow when they need to, and they stay as close to the target tissue as they can. And the balance is also incredible. If intestinal tissue grew only 5% faster than it should, after one year of growth, it would increase its size by 10 times. Cancer is a small imbalance (~1%) of too much growth (or too little death). It's amazing that we don't always have cancer everywhere.

I ran over to the Financial Aid office to ask for money on my lunch break, but got back with plenty of time to eat my delicious delicious sandwich and chat some more (it happened to be about water infrastructure... oops).

The post-lunch lecture was Anatomy. This class I was a bit concerned with as I have never taken an anatomy class. The good thing about the class is that both the professors are Brits, which makes for endless entertainment and makes them seem inconceivably smart. We learned about the chest cavity. We had about an hour lecture on it before we headed off to the Anatomy Lab... dun dun dun.

Before we got to meet our cadavers, we had to change into our scrubs. It was like high school gym all over again. 40 guys in a locker room stripping and putting on funny blue clothes brought back memories.

We entered the Anatomy Lab and found our table. There were two sections of the room with twelve tables each. On the table was a blue fake leather bag with a big black zipper on it, each with the shape of the body visible by the folds in the bag. We walked over to the table, received instructions, observed a moment of silence for the donors, and unzipped the bags.

The cadavers were covered with a damp sheet, with an additional cloth over the hands and the face. The skin didn't seem real; it was too plastic-ey and pale. I took the plunge and made the first incision for my group along the clavicle. At first, it seemed unusual, but not as eerie as it should have been. We took off the layer of skin and fascia to reveal the pectoralis major.

To get to the serratus anterior, we needed to move the arms out to the sides. We took off the cloths and moved it out. This is when it started to feel like a body, once we could see the hands. Also noticing the armpit hair and other things which I didn't expect reminded us that it was actually a human we were working on. Even then, it was only a passing thought; the really interesting part was the intercostal muscles and the corticoid process and the other parts of the anatomy, not as much as I would have expected, the emotional side of the body.

We completed the dissection and washed up. We went back to the locker room and changed back into normal clothing. It was 5pm. We had class 9-5. And we will have class 9-5. We are all really tired and it's only the first day. I expect we will learn to strive at this pace, but we have not learned that yet.

That being said, medical school doesn't seem to be that hard. There was nothing today which I had trouble learning. The only challenge is keeping this up. Can I learn that much every day for two years? Medical school is a marathon, and one we have all been training for. If I can maintain this pace, I'll pass with flying colors (not that my colors will fly any more than the next man with a Pass/Fail grading system). I do not have significant fears that I will grow weary, but this, I suppose, is a great risk.

The second, and more likely, is distraction. There are about a billion opportunities for doing great things here. I just cannot get too distracted from class. Nothing seems to be immediately threatening, but those would be the two predicted 'modes of failure' (as Civil Engineers say), so should be protected against or reinforced.

P.S. I still smell like formaldehyde.

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