It isn't surprising to me that the most interesting thing I'm doing in medical school right now is dissection. It also isn't terribly surprising that the memorize/regurgitate portion of anatomy takes some of the fun out of it. I try not to let that interfere with my enthusiasm for discovery and recent weeks have been quite interesting.
My dissection table learned a small amount of patient history at the outset of the course. As we progressed through the dissection, I learned she had several surgeries including some procedure which required her chest to be wired back together and that surgeons are not very careful about making sure free ends of wires are flat under the skin. Every time we begin dissection on a new area, we search for clues about what her body experienced and how it recovered or compensated. Although the first year of medical school is focused on normal anatomy/physiology/etc., we've encountered a fair amount of pathology from examining cadavers with 70-80 years of life experience.
The current section is chest and abdomen, but we've only just begun the chest. I held her lungs in my hands and marveled at the size, the structure and complexity of a lung and what it accomplishes. I wondered how hard it was for her to breathe in her last months with a tumor filling much of her right lung. We tried to guess where the tumor near her trachea had grown from and to before we were permitted to dissect that section. I held her heart in my hands and wondered if the tumor pressing down on it caused her pain, if she could feel the weight of her heart failing.
Interestingly, in conversation with some of the other students, they are questioning themselves because they felt nothing. One woman said she held the heart in her hand and thought, "Okay, what am I taking out next?" She is experiencing some self-doubt and questioning, but I think that is an entirely reasonable response. We've done so much dissection of these bodies that sometimes there really isn't any wonder left in a student by the end of lab. I don't think my reaction is any better or worse than others and I'm glad some folks are honest enough to share.