Week 14: I’m Sorry

          Twelve weeks ago, I used a hammer and chisel to break through Summer’s spine, but these tools were not well-suited for this week’s dissection job; a hand-held, electrical saw better did the trick. Yes, the long-awaited opening of Summer’s skull had finally arrived. Using the saw, a circular incision was made around Summer’s upper skull (at about the level of her forehead), and after a mere ten minutes of unbearable noises and indescribable stenches, it came time to lift the skull away from Summer’s head. There it was, Summer’s brain. Believe it or not, I have never held a human brain in the palms of my hands, and it’s an experience I will not soon forget. There I was, holding Summer’s brain–the same brain that once stored her every memory, the same brain that once encoded her every move, elicited her every emotion and thought, the same brain that once gave Summer her personality and uniqueness—absolutely amazing. The brain is such a complex organ of the body, with such unique anatomy and sophisticated functioning (very complex to understand too!), and so I always appreciate learning more about it. Since this was our final dissection, we were informed of Summer’s true identity and nature of death. Her real name is not Summer (not much of a surprise), and she died at age 88 of failure to thrive with Alzheimer’s disease and cardiovascular disease. Again, I dedicate all that I learned in Anatomy lab to Summer, as well as the other five cadavers.

          As I mentioned last week, this week in Behavioral Medicine, I participated in a malpractice case involving the events of a patient treated for misdiagnosed breast cancer. Of 54 students, only twelve of us were randomly chosen to participate in the case, and, of course (my luck), I was one of the twelve. The role I was assigned to play was that of “Dr. Infusion.” I was the patient’s oncologist who recommended a high-dose chemotherapy treatment following her being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. The chemotherapy I dosed (in the scenario), resulted in several adverse health complications, which she was forced to endure, hospitalized in an ICU. The patient’s attorney (played by my professor) interrogated me and eleven other classmates (playing the roles of other healthcare professionals that the patient encountered throughout the course of her faulty diagnosis and unnecessary treatment). The main objective of the exercise was to highlight that all of us healthcare professionals were to blame for the patient’s current state, and that saying a simple three words, “I am sorry,” can really go a long way. We all had to be very creative in the way we apologized; it is never a good idea to accept all of the blame, especially not when being sued for millions of dollars. When my professor asked me why I did not re-check the patient’s biopsy results before “pumping poison through her veins,” my main defense was that I was treating the patient with good intent, in hopes of moderating the severity of her condition. The patient had seen about five other healthcare professionals before being referred to me, so I wrongfully assumed that by the time of her referral, the diagnosis had been definitively established. My apology seemed to sit well with my professor. In the end, I was let off the hook. The experience really demonstrated how important it is to choose words very wisely.

          Classes have officially ended, and so only finals remain. In this last week, we completed GI focusing on colon cancer and disorders of the anus, and we completed ID focusing on additional viruses (HIV, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella…etc) and parasites (malaria). Next week, it is school policy that professors not schedule lectures/finals (the week serves as a mandatory study week). The only courses in our PA program that can schedule finals are the specialty courses, so the only finals I have next week are my GI and ID finals. The following week, I will have my Physiology, Behavioral Medicine, Anatomy lab, and Anatomy lecture finals. Honestly, I wish I could go back to midterm time. In every class, especially Anatomy lab, I feel like I have triple the amount of information to learn compared to what I had to learn back at midterm time. I will be frequenting the cadaver lab many, many times before the final, starting this Sunday. There are 12 arms, 12 legs, a bunch of brains, eyes, faces, necks, kidneys, vaginas, uteruses, penises, not to mention the variations of vessels and nerves in each body to review. We were told that we can be tested on any structure mentioned in our textbook…not so helpful. It’s going to be a long two weeks, but at least there is an end in sight. The next time I will post is on December 19th, the day of my last final (since next week is an ‘off’ week). I wish we could flash forward to then…  

In the mean time, good luck on your final:

1. A patient of yours presents with fever, sore throat, and swollen cervical lymph nodes. What viral illness, commonly referred to as “the kissing disease” should you be suspicious of?

2. What is the largest nerve of the human body?

3. How many bones are in one of your two thumbs?

4. What medical specialty does the acronym ID stand for?

5. The presented findings of a research study conducted between the years of 2007 and 2008 determined that, on Long Island, one child is abused every ___ minutes on a daily basis.  

Last week’s answer: False. There are eight carpal (wrist) bones and seven tarsal (ankle) bones. 

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