Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gross Anatomy in Sneakers

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (May 28, 2009) Sailors, Mari...

Psst. Don't tell my professor, but one of the liabilities of studying anatomy is, someday you might actually begin thinking about it. Not only in the sense, for example, that a patient has an occluded left anterior descending cardiac artery (LAD), but that you have the same vascular tubing running along your heart -- it's right there, lying beneath your right hand when you say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Go ahead, try it, put your hand over your heart and then drop it a teensy bit lower, around the bottom of your pocket. Now you've got it. We can't really feel the LAD because there's skin, muscle, and bone between it and us, but you get the idea. When your neighbor tells you he's going to have coronary angioplasty, narrowing or occlusion of arteries like the LAD are the reason.

Normally, most of us don't think about all of this, we just get out of bed, get dressed, and get on with life. In the anatomy lab, we examine, dissect, and probe these structures, but we're so engrossed in learning and trying to pass that we don't let the impact sink in too deeply. Then one day, when we least expect it, we're contemplating the meaning of the universe and it hits home: I've got an LAD, too, just like the poor guy in room 405, only his is clogged chock full of cholesterol, and mine's clean as a whistle. I hope.

It might come about while working in the ER and a crash victim comes in. While you're taking their history, you realize you have similar interests, and she's got a scar on the right side below her navel from an appendectomy just like yours. And it hits home again, this could have been me. It's almost enough to make a person hole up in their room with the blankets pulled over their head.

Of course, we don't do that, because denial conveniently helps us keep the harshness of reality at arm's length most of the time. Accidents and occluded arteries happen to other people, not us. It's how we survive, denying the fragility of life and our bodies, to get by from day to day. But every now and then, we become aware that even the study and practice of medicine doesn't render us immune to being human. We're all as vulnerable as anyone else and that's the way it is, with no free passes out of jail, and nobody handing us $200.00 when we pass Go.

Don't worry -- I'm not writing this because I've been diagnosed with some bizarre sounding thing related to my LAD or anything else, for that matter. I was simply thinking about the circulation of the heart while doing board preparation and one thing led to another. Visualizing where the arteries went for the sake of the exam reminded me of my own, and the next thing I knew, gross anatomy in sneakers had crept up behind me and said, "Boo!"

(Public Domain image via Wikipedia)
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