Month: August 2014

Broken Fingers, Anatomy Practicals, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challange

I’ve had a busy last week and a half, as you can see from the title.  So here’s a quick update of whats been going on in my life:

  • Last Sunday (8 days ago) I broke my finger playing Ultimate frisbee.  I walked around with a huge sausage link of a finger for a few days but now it barely even hurts. Its funny, I was so sure that it wasn’t broken that when the doctor called to tell me the results of the x-ray I burst out laughing on the phone.  All that swelling meant  I couldn’t hold things like pencils or, say, my scalpel for anatomy lab.  Instead I used a probe (a tool which doesn’t have a point or blade), but at one point I lost control of the probe, flicked it across the room and lobbed a huge glob of adipose tissue in my lap!  After that I just watched my partners dissect; it was safer for everyone involved.   (The picture is from a couple of days ago, after the swelling and bruising had started to go down, but you can still see the beautiful purple bruising.)IMG_0950
  • Also, I had to do my OTM practical with a finger that didn’t bend.  We were only checking for rotation and flexion/extension preference, so it didn’t impede me in any way.  For those of you not trained in osteopathic manipulations, I was using my thumbs to feel how my partner’s vertebra were rotated and and whether they moved correctly (basically).  So all my other fingers were curled up out of the way but my index wouldn’t bend so it was just sticking up awkwardly as I checked everything 🙂
  • Last Friday I had my first anatomy lab practical.  I spent HOURS in the anatomy lab making sure I knew where everything was.  Its harder than it sounds–Its not just big things like “identify her left arm” or even “identify her deltoid.”  No, they ask mean things like, What is the name of that tiny cord that could be a nerve or could be a blood vessel?  And then you have sixty seconds to name the structure.  After I finished it, I felt pretty confident, but after talking to people over the weekend about their answers I was pretty sure I had failed.  Luckily, they just posted grades and I did pretty well.  Whew.
  • In other news, I have a new baby cousin born this week and we just found out the sex of my sister’s baby.  So exciting!  Its funny how other people’s lives keep going on while I am trapped…I mean attending medical school haha.
  • Then this morning I had my second block exam.  I feel like I only came home to sleep and spent the rest of my time at school.  At first I was holed up in the anatomy lab, then as soon as that was over, I spent all my time in the library reminding myself that there were other other classes beside anatomy.  I’m exhausted now–I’ve done nothing but study for days.   I’m not sure how that went yet–I’ll update you in a few days after its graded.
  • After I finished the exam, I came home and made cinnamon rolls because yum.  Don’t judge me–I’m from the South and I express my feelings of stress in food.  It took less than an hour and they were delicious.  Feel free to be jealous.


  • Finally, the ATSU-KCOM class of 2018 was challenged to the ALS ice bucket challenge by our dean, Dr. Wilson.  This afternoon about 25 of us gathered to douse ourselves in ice water.  It was miserably hot, so I thought it would be a pleasant experience.  Guys, it was SO COLD.  Also, some ice got down my shirt which is always fun.  But it was a great experience for a wonderful cause.  And in turn we challenged the class of 2017, so there is more fun to come!Screen shot 2014-08-25 at 3.45.50 PM
  • Its funny, I biked back home soaking wet after this and people were giving me funny looks.  Did it rain only on me?  Do I have some sort of sweating disorder?  Nope, just voluntarily dumped ice water over my head.  Don’t mind me.

Well, thats what I’ve been up too.  Now I’m looking forward to a nice relaxing day of….studying for tomorrow’s osteopathic manipulation quiz. But first, a nap!


All About Anatomy: The Cadaver

Fair warning:  This is an entire blog post about what it is like to dissect a human cadaver.  Its not terribly disgusting, but proceed with caution.

When we had our first cadaver lab, I sat down to try to write a post about the experiences, but I had trouble trying to describe it.  Now that I have several weeks of anatomy lab under my belt….well, its still hard to find the words without completely horrifying the non-medical readers.  Even after taking my time writing this post, it might be advised for the more squeamish readers to just skip this one.

Anatomy lab was one aspect of medical school that made me simultaneously excited and apprehensive.  As in, I was excited because I’m a science nerd, but apprehensive because I didn’t want to be the person that tosses her cookies when she sees a dead body.


I had already “met” my cadaver during orientation week, but I wasn’t sure how I would react to dissecting a human being.  Now having gone through several labs, can tell you that the best word to describe cadaver lab is “weird.”  I know that isn’t a very specific word, but its the only one that works.

The cadavers have been preserved with formaldehyde, and seem more like plastic dolls than humans.  The skins is leathery and the limbs are all but immobile.  There were six of us to a table, all standing around her trying to decide how to start.  Our first task was to identify the muscle groups of the back, and it took all six of us to maneuver our cadaver face down so that we could access her back.  The process was messy and difficult, but we took as much care as we could.  I guess we were all subconsciously trying to keep from causing her “pain”. But the next step was to make the first incision, so that impulse would have to be overcome quickly.We carefully read the instructions, determining where to cut and how deeply. Then another student asked the inevitable question:  “Who is going to cut first?”


The answer?  Me.  I wasn’t excited about the idea of cutting into another person’s skin, but I wanted to start as I meant to finish:  confidently.  Someone had to volunteer–it might as well be me.  In the end, making the first incision wasn’t gross, disturbing, or life altering.  At the time I was more concerned that I would cut incorrectly then the odd feeling of cutting into a body.  In fact, for the majority of my time with our cadaver, I can honestly say I don’t feel ‘weird’ about it.  I can’t say the same for when I leave lab, however.

The ‘weirdness’ of cadaver lab first hit me the afternoon of that first incision.  After I had taken about three showers–the smell of those chemicals follow you everywhere–I started to make dinner.  While cutting zucchini, I looked down at my hand holding a knife and suddenly thought, ‘An hour ago instead of a zucchini I was using a knife to cut open someone’s back.”  It was an odd thought.  I wasn’t grossed out or anything–I was still ready to scarf down my dinner–but I definitely became aware that dissecting a human being was not a normal experience for most people.

In many ways I am distanced from the idea of my cadaver as a person.  Or maybe it is more accurate to say that when I am in lab, I am aware that my cadaver was a person, but the act of dissecting her seems normal.  I can imagine that if I were cutting into a person who was alive, breathing, and looking me in the eye it would be a very different experience.  But during the dissection you are following instructions, trying to figure out what you should be doing, and you get distracted looking at the anatomical details.

Every so often, I am ‘weirded out’ by the things while I am in lab.  Yesterday, for instance, I spent nearly three hours dissecting the forearm and hand of our cadaver.  At some point I looked down at my hands and realized how eery the situation was:  I was literally holding someone else’s hands in my own as I skinned her fingers.  Looking at our fingers side by side was disconcerting–we both had our fingernails painted red.

I don’t, however, want you to get the idea that I think the cadaver labs are a bad idea, or somehow disrespectful of our cadavers.  I cannot emphasized enough how helpful and educational it is to view the actual structures in their natural configuration.  I can look at pictures and slides for hours and not truly understand the anatomical placement of muscles, bones, or vasculature, but when you are forced to find a structure in your cadaver it solidifies your learning in a way that is invaluable.  I do not know the name or life story of the woman who donated her body to my education, but she has impacted my education and future career more than I can say.  The process of dissection might be occasionally unsettling, but 99% of my time in anatomy lab is spent discovering and learning.

The worst part about anatomy lab is that its a very long lab and I get hungry half way through.  I shouldn’t be hungry as I cut into a cadaver, but I am none the less.  Actually, I take that back.  The worst part about anatomy lab is that the smell follows you everywhere.  Half an hour later I’ll be eating a sandwich–because, you know, I’ve been starving for the last hour of lab–and I can smell the formaldehyde on my fingers.  Yummy.


But seriously.


Ok, enough of the GIFs.  And for those of you who were concerned, I will have you know that we students are extremely respectful of our cadavers.  The faculty at ATSU takes the matter very seriously–especially since many of the bodies were from the Kirksville area.  Imagine how traumatizing it would be to overhear students chatting about their cadavers in Walmart while you are doing your grocery shopping and realize they are talking about your family member.  So we are expected to maintain a professional attitude, an expectation I am proud to say that we have met.

Anyway, I apologize for the overly gross and dramatic post today–I just thought that since anatomy is such a big part of my life right now, you all should be forced to hear about it too 🙂

Newsflash: Medical School is Cool!

I am posting in the midst of a study break to tell you all a cool thing about medical school.

As you may or may not know, I worked as a medical scribe in an ER for many years. This means that I have a lot of miscellaneous medical knowledge for which I do not yet have a basis.  Example:   As a scribe, I was taught to immediately alert the physician if I noticed a potassium value above a certain threshold.  I know that hyperkalemia (excess potassium) can lead to cardiac arrhythmias.  But until this morning, I didn’t know why.  I had a vague notion of electrolyte imbalances, but other than that the mechanism was a mystery.

This morning, however, I was sitting in a physiology class and the professor was explaining the way potassium creates electrochemical gradients across cell membranes and I finally understood.  Extracellular potassium causes the voltage potential of the cellular membrane to increase, leading to hyper-excitability of cells (like cardiac cells).

And there you have it folks!  The reason why, four years ago when I was in scribe training, I was warned about hyperkalemia.  And maybe that explanation doesn’t mean anything to you, but it is incredibly cool to go from knowing that something happens, to knowing why something happens.  There are dozens more situations like this that have been, or soon will be explained and I cannot wait.  This morning, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed (and very much like I wanted to skip class and eat and an early lunch), and encountering this little connection reminded me why I like medical school, despite the never-ending parade of studying.

A parade of studying to which I must return.


The Dreaded Block Exam

So I’m sure you are all wondering where I’ve been for the last week or so (because I know your lives revolve around my blog posts).  Well, I will tell you.  This Monday I had my first block exam of medical school.   What is a block exam, you ask?  Why, let me tell you! A while back, KCOM decided to change the way they tested to better prepare students for the board (the super fancy, super hard tests that I have to take before I can practice medicine).  You see, the boards are these huge tests that mix up all the subjects we study in medical school and apply them to real life medical situations.  So now, instead of taking separate tests for each individual subject, we take one big test with all the subjects mashed together.  That way, we are accustomed to the format when we go to take the boards.

For the last three weeks, I have been taking classes in biochemistry, anatomy, embryology, and histology (among others).  On Monday, I took an 86 question test that encompassed all the subjects we studied.  And boy, it was a doozy. They don’t just ask you multiple choice questions like “What type of leukocytes phagocytize bacteria?”  Instead, you get a paragraph about a little boy who presents with recurrent bacterial infections, but has normal antibody responses.  And from that you have to deduce which leukocyte might be impaired in such a situation. Or a story about a medieval knight is stabbed posteriorly at the level of T4–what nerves and muscles are affected by the wound?


I studied and studied.  I would leaving my house in the morning with all my school things, a mug of coffee, and a bunch of food to sustain myself and just study for hours.  Last weekend, nearly the entire class of first years camped out in the group study rooms and library in a desperate attempt to absorb whatever facts we could.  Sunday night, some very nice upperclassmen brought candy and sodas to give us a boost.

Monday morning came, and I spent 120 minutes answering 86 questions about the subjects we had covered so far.  I came out of the test knowing that I had either done very well, or failed completely.  And today, a whole 48 hours later, I can proudly say I did well.  I cannot explain to you how happy I am that I don’t have to remediate this exam.


Now, I am by no means top of my class (unless no one made higher than a mid-B, in which case I’m #1 guys!).  Its weird, I got used to making better grades in undergrad, but now all I want to do is pass.  Its kind of a freeing feeling.  In undergrad I had to be concerned that any slip up would be questioned during the admission process, but I am past all that now.  None of my future patients are going to investigate my test grades after all.

I hope.

That being said, the entire class of 2018 was exceedingly glad to be done with this first block exam.  Yes, we have another in a few weeks, but for a brief moment we didn’t have anything to study.  I spent Monday afternoon canoeing with a friend at nearby Thousand Hills State Park, watching movies, and FINALLY cleaning my apartment (which became unforgivably unkempt during my frenzied studying).  Interestingly, the next morning at an 8 AM lab, I noticed that quite a few of my classmates were mysteriously missing!  I wonder what celebrations they could have been up to the night before….