Let me start off by saying how tremendously anxious, yet extremely excited I was upon knowing that for our first meeting in gross anatomy lab, we would be dissecting our human cadaver. We were tasked to dissect the upper extremities focusing on the shoulder and the arm. The initial incision was surreal. It felt intimidating to purposefully cut through human skin mainly because it was a new experience for me; and, also because of the leering apprehension of making the wrong cuts—ultimately debasing the dissection.
They say that more often than not, this experience teaches medical students to emotionally detach from their patients. Moreover, this experience—dissection and the anonymity of the cadaver—becomes an avenue where medical students reap the benefits of a dehumanized body (i.e. being objective, of setting a distance between an organ or body and its human identity).
But at the end of the day, amidst the fumes of formalin, I realized we can learn empathy from the dead. The anonymity creates a room for an imaginative projection of how the cadaver lived her life and how she eventually died. This projection gave me a deeper sensitivity as to the nobility of her sacrifice. It was humbling to appreciate her essence in the pursuit of my medical education. She is in fact, one of my gross anatomy teachers.
It is indeed a great privilege to be a 1st year medical student and dissecting an actual human cadaver. I felt like I was saliently taking the first step towards “the dream”.