book review: Body of Work

I wish I remember how I stumbled upon this incredible text, but I honestly don’t. Nonetheless, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that in many ways Dr. Christine Montross’ Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab got me through the first year of medical school.

I’ve been very open about how anatomy lab was and still is one of the most transformative and difficult experiences of my life, both as a subject of study and emotionally. When I first began studying anatomy, I did recognize the great privilege it was to study the human body from this perspective. I was almost unspeakably grateful to those who donated their bodies so that my colleagues and I could become better healers. But when we first started dissections in October of last year, I did not understand how integral this experience was for me as a physician in training. I did not understand why I was learning about how to ‘save lives’ by studying the dead. I felt traumatized. Every time I stepped into anatomy lab, I simultaneously felt grateful, sad and anxious. Everything felt so unnatural. I knew rationally that the cadavers felt no pain during our dissections but that did not prevent me from wincing at the sound of each rib cracking or a saw cutting through bone.

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anatomy lab reflections part one: “Mr. Williams”

This is the first in a two-part series of reflections on my time in the anatomy lab during my first year in medical school. It was written after my first day in anatomy lab and reading it even after all this time, and having finished my first year, I can still feel everything I felt on that first day. I’ve had quite a love-hate relationship with the anatomy course this past year but reflecting back now, I know that it has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I can say with full confidence that it will allow me to become a better healer in the future.

To those who donated their bodies so we could learn to become better healers: thank you for this selfless and final sacrifice. You have all been the best teachers about both life and death. And for that, I will always be grateful and indebted to you. Thank you.

Now I am a student of medicine, a field with its own great paradoxes. The first of these I encountered in the anatomy class and is still one of the most powerful: that you begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead.” – Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Dr. Christine Montross

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