So Gross

While I sat in the hospital yesterday, I was reminded of my high school biology class—the semester when we did the dissections and sliced and diced the frog and the earthworm. I am assuming all of you cut up at least one of those. Naturally, I did not enjoy this on any level. It was so much more fun and less disgusting to look through the eye of the microscope and see all the little squiggly things appear, which turned out to be my eyelashes the first time I peered through the lens of my microscope.

At the time, I did not believe there could be anything worse to do in a biology class than cutting up those two little creatures. I learned how wrong I was when, several years later, I went with my friend Sue on a road trip to Baltimore to visit Johns Hopkins University Medical School.

Those were the days before GPS, smart phones, google maps, MapQuest or any helpful computer-related tool that none of us can live without now. Back then, we could go into just about any gas station and get maps. So we mapped out our route and headed to Baltimore, confident that we would have no problems. It was not so easy. We kept taking the wrong exit and ended up driving through one of the tunnels three times. That should have been the first clue that the trip would have other rocks in the road.

There was one very unexpected surprise, which I suspect was a surprise to only me. We probably sat through a talk about the program and walked around the campus I suppose. None of that stuck in my mind. What I  do recall so vividly, forty years later, was the gross anatomy lab—the class where bodies which have been donated to science meet a similar fate as the frog and earthworm from high school biology class. The bodies were carefully draped with sheets, with just the part being studied exposed. I particularly remember seeing one body lying on a table, his head uncovered and the brain exposed. I was horrified, and I think I walked out of the room.

I believe the meaning of “gross anatomy” is “the branch of anatomy studying the human body visible to the naked eye” rather than under a microscope. However, to me, on that day so long ago, it meant “yuck.”


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