The alarm goes off at 6:00 am, but today is Friday and on Fridays I get to hit snooze without the guilt of other weekdays. Friday is the only day of the week we are completely out of the classroom AND we start half an hour later. I roll out of bed 15 minutes later and take my dog, Gunther, on a quick jog. After a shower, I don on an old pair of scrubs that remind me briefly of my former life as an MRI technologist. A quick breakfast and large coffee is all I need and I am ready to go. I grab my anatomy study notes from the kitchen table throw them along with my water bottle into my messenger bag, kiss my boyfriend goodbye, and hop on my bike for school.
On Fridays, the day is divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Half the class spends its morning session in the anatomy lab while the other half practices the complete physical exam, learning each week a new body system. In the afternoon the groups switch. My Fridays always start with the physical exam. In our small groups we go over the techniques and rational for various aspects of examination and then practice on each other. This goes on from 8:30 to 11:30. At 11:30, I hop back on the bike and head home, which is 1 mile away.
I spend around 45 minutes throwing a ball in the backyard and then taking a walk with my dog. A quick sandwich and it is time to get to the lab. I bike in the opposite direction of school, heading towards the hospital, where the anatomy lab houses its cadavers. After wasting precious minutes of cramming time, I finally find an empty rail to lock my bike to then navigate my way down to the ground level of Duke South. I grab a seat on the floor in front of the entryway to review the outline of what we will be dissecting today. Around 1 pm the rest of my afternoon classmates start making their way down the hall, after being shuttled over to the main medical campus on the bus our program provides.
At 1:15, after stowing away our study guides, all students shuffle into the lab. We are immediately handed a quiz and a pencil. The quizzes are short, numerous (one before every dissection), and don’t count a whole lot towards our course grade. Studying for them every week as if they were weighted more heavily has helped me stay on top of the vast amount of material the course requires for our more cumulative tests. I turn my quiz in and step back out into the hall with the others to muse over the answers while waiting for the remainder of the class to finish.
After reviewing as a group the full protocol for today’s lab we split up into our smaller groups and make our way towards “our” bodies. Throughout the course of the semester I have grown to appreciate more and more the diverse backgrounds of my fellow students. Each one of us brings a different element and dynamic to our team of four. As we settle into the afternoon’s work we alternate who incises with the scalpel, who retracts, who uses blunt dissection with gloved fingers, and who guides and quizzes with the text. We have gotten so used to working with one another that by now we shift into these various roles without even thinking.
As dissection winds down and it gets closer to 4:30 we begin preparing the body for the following week. This requires a few minutes of wiping down instruments, replacing organs into their respective locations, and moistening all layers in between. I always find my thoughts during this time wandering to the life of my 96 year old cadaver. I consider myself privileged to be able to partake in such profound hands on learning experiences and all thanks to an amazing donation to science.