Saturday, October 20, 2007

A LIFE IN MEDICINE - 2- Gross Anatomy

Nothing identifies a medical student more than gross anatomy. In our new, stiff white lab coats, armed with the dissection kits dutifully purchased during orientation, we were about to meet our cadaver the first time. In teams of four, we began what would become an intimate 4 month affair with our new friend.

But first, a few words about the Jefferson Medical College (now the Thomas Jefferson University), As one of the oldest and largest medical schools in the country it was, and to some extent still is, steeped in tradition. Our class broke two of those traditions. Ours was the first class to include women, and the first to use closed circuit TV in the anatomy lab, allowing 176 students to view a professor’s dissection simultaneously. One of the traditions that was not abandoned was the black lab coats worn by the handful of professors that oversaw our laboratory activities.

Someone had the wisdom to locate the gross anatomy labs in a separate building from the main college (more about this at another time.) The Daniel Baugh Institute of Anatomy (DBI to those intimate with the place) was an older building located about 4 blocks from the main college. It housed 2 steeply inclined lecture halls, faculty offices, one student laboratory, taking up the entire second floor, and a morgue in the basement. During orientation the students were given a tour of the building. To reach the morgue one stepped into a small elevator that could hold perhaps 4 people (upright!). which descended ever so slowly into the cavernous basement, and when you stepped out the first thing you saw was a stone lined hallway leading into an arched doorway, through which the caretaker’s office and “lab” was located. Sitting on a desk which was surrounded by shelves and boxes of bones and body parts was a simple vase with fresh yellow daisies. It was surreal! And as first year medical students vulnerable to all sorts of myths, fairy tales, and whatever, we believed the rumor that the caretaker’s daughter died at a young age and that her remains were kept somewhere in this morgue. But enough of this; it’s time to visit the lab.

The anatomy lab, a large, austere room of about 30x100 feet looked like it was built and equipped in the early 1900’s. Except for the new closed circuit TV, it resembled something out of a Charles Dickens novel. It contained long rows of plain, flat steel tables supported by steel, pipe legs anchored to the floor. Suspended by a chain above each table was a single florescent light with two 48” bulbs. The table had no moving parts.
Lying on each table was a stiff cadaver wrapped tightly in 6 inch strips of sepia canvas. The entire room was sturated with a formaldhyde-like aroma. (Several years after we graduated Jefferson built a new basic science hall. And sometime afterwards DBI was converted into residential condominiums.

next...we meet our new friend

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