I think the first and most lasting memory we all have of medical school is cadaver lab. That is where we met our first patient and started to learn about disease processes. It’s where a lot of us experienced death up close for the first time and began our lifelong pursuit of staving it off for as long as possible. We shared the experience with our classmates – bonding us together as future physicians. So many friendships (and a few romances) were made over that cadaver.
I remember the nervousness as we decided who would make the first cut. We started our dissection on the upper extremities, and that first incision to expose the flexor muscles of the arm seemed so impossible. Who were we to cut into another person? Shaking scalpel aside, we made our way through.
Today I was faculty at my final cadaver lab of my residency teaching the junior residents advanced procedures such as venous cutdowns and thoracotomies. There was no hesitation in their hands as we identified landmarks and dissected out veins. Everyone reached for the scalpel in anticipation of making the thoractomy incision. Eager hands reached in to find and cross-clamp the aorta. No nervousness here. Everyone was eager to cut and learn.
As I count down the final several weeks of my residency and look to my future as an Emergency Medicine attending, I find myself thinking back more and more on my training. Days like today take me back to where I started; scared, unsure, wondering if I would be able to pick up that scalpel. Now I can see where those first tentative days have led me to. And, I thank all of those patients who gave of themselves along the way so that I could continue the promise I made to that first patient so many years ago… “Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”