It was a story incomplete.
The very last post I wrote about anatomy lab was a reflection on our donor, the night before we dissected his head and neck.
A few of my anatomy posts have been stitched together by a gifted editor and will run as a front-page story and feature in the Health section of the Los Angeles Times this coming Monday. Several times, the editor asked for more concrete details about dissection above the neck.
It would mean I would have to think about it, and worse, write about it. And there was a good reason that since November, I have done neither.
I am ashamed about what happened in lab.
We had a ceremony honoring our donors in January. The pieces read and thoughts expressed were elegant, kind, and thoughtful. That is the way I would like to remember anatomy. But, in a way, reflections are sugarcoated. They are certainly honest, but by definition–they occur after much thought.
What happened in lab occurred with no thought and is no less honest. The day after I wrote the post reflecting on our donor, we entered lab to begin the dissection.
There was no analogy my mind could make, no particular moment in my memory that in any way compared to this one. The whole situation seemed nothing short of ridiculous. For some reason, the absurdity made me giddy.
I giggled. Instructors like to use the term “nervous laughter,” but I didn’t feel nervous. I felt outside myself.
My reaction was contagious. All four of us breathed in dust and formalin and laughed above the roar of the saw. Dentures flew out of the cadaver’s mouth and clattered onto the floor. In this warped reality, we took this in stride and giggled harder. Of course, I thought sarcastically, when you cut through someone’s head, their fake teeth fly at you. What else could I expect? It was a nonsensical situation; we responded in kind.
I sobered up after a few minutes, horrified about what I had done. I asked my mom what kind of person my reaction made me. “It’s a coping mechanism,” she said. “But I didn’t feel like I had to cope with anything,” I protested. “That’s the point, isn’t it?” she said.
If everything we do is to rationalize or make ourselves feel better, what isn’t a coping mechanism? Does that make it justified? Does that make irrationality rational? That was the first time in my life I have had a public reaction that I could not bring under control. It’s difficult to think about, so I don’t very often. But when I do, I still struggle to make sense of it.
Or maybe it’s all just nonsense.