Med students grateful for donated cadavers | READER COMMENTARY

Med students grateful for donated cadavers | READER COMMENTARY

The recent article, “For Baltimore medical students, dissection of human body triggers deep emotion” (Jan. 4), took me back to my own time in the anatomy lab of the Madras Medical College in India as a first-year medical student in the 1960s. The bodies that came to us for dissection were those of panhandlers and orphans unclaimed after death who had died on the streets of the city and came to us via the mortuaries. Unsung, they were embalmed in formaldehyde and donated to various anatomy labs of medical schools across the city. We couldn’t complain about what inhalation of the formaldehyde did to us. Anatomy was a one-and-a-half-year-long course. It was intense.

Every part of the body had to be dissected, and every muscle and nerve identified before the course was over. We came back to the same body every day. The body was given a name, and medical students grew attached to the cadaver that was donated to them for dissection for more than a year. We worked out of the “Gray’s Anatomy” reference books in pairs. While one student read from the book and directed, the other followed instructions and dissected.

What everyone in my class feared was the final exam. It was a practicum where we had to dissect and name all the parts we had dissected including the arteries, the veins, the nerves and the muscles. The most intricate dissection was that of the hand. I remember praying, “No hand please,” to any god listening, yet that was precisely what I got for my final exam.   Somehow, I muddled through. The examiner would lift a nerve or a tendon and ask, “Now, name that!” You could hear your heart jump out of your rib cage as you named those small muscles and almost obscure nerves and hoped to God you were right and not messing it up for yourself, forced to return for another year of anatomy.

When I passed anatomy, the only thing I missed was the cadaver I had grown to love. She was beautiful. She had red teeth from chewing “paan” — betel leaves and areca nuts with slaked lime or calcium hydroxide, a favorite among the poor of India. I wrote her an ode before I left and, to this day, I remember her fondly.

— Usha Nellore, Bel Air

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