“This is a fabulous new view for me of the human body” I thought. I just finished reading The Anatomist by Bill Hayes. In telling the story of Gray’s Anatomy, Hayes writes in detail about med school dissections he audits to make his book more poignant. Phrases like “Leaving one side of our cadaver intact, we carefully dissect the other, exposing the intermediate and then the deep back muscles….” changed from abhorrent to fascinating. My ghoulish viewpoint became an observant one. Mr. Hayes described in words the amazing techniques of dissection, making them interesting and easy to imagine. I could not believe how clear his descriptions were.
The author says that after the gross anatomy experience, “You see life with a kind of picture-in-picture feature..” And I agreed.
I read half the book, then put it down for a few days. Picking it up later, I was surprised to see how low my retention was. What was so fascinating had become a little hazy. But then on page 172, an anatomy instructor, concerned about fewer anatomy classes as part of the MD curriculum, tells Hayes,
“…..there wasn’t really much new to discover in the body. It had all been found………but the real deal is, you can’t do medicine without it. ….Of course, you can make it a lot more streamlined. Teach it in a much more focused way. Doctors don’t remember any of this stuff. Ninety percent of what we throw at them doesn’t stick.”
Comforted, I read on to the book’s fascinating conclusion, boldly identifying with the student doctors' forgetfulness! And then I was entranced to see how all that anatomy on cadavers only helped a little to understand death. That death was still a mystery. I have seen two loved ones die and I have witnessed the shifting of consciousness that occurs at death. Like a light going out. Or happiness leaving the material world…Or….and oh yes! How the experience of the loss of a loved one is what you most anxiously want to share with……oh! but the one you want to share it with is gone!
I admire Haye’s attitude of respect for the cadavers and the people they used to be. I know a little more about anatomy now, and The Anatomist brought me a new view of the work of doctors, physical therapists and other medical technicians.