Before I started medical school, I could have been voted "Most likely to pass out while even thinking about blood." In my undergraduate physiological psychology class, I remember a rare instance when I arrived to class late. I entered the room during a peer's presentation on placing an i.v. on a child. For some reason, the class was filled beyond capacity that day, so with no chairs available I stood in the back. About thirty seconds into the discussion of everything that could go wrong with placing a pediatric i.v., my professor happened to glance over at me. At that moment, I mouthed the words, "I'm going to faint" and he rushed over to catch me, before I hit the ground. He gathered me into the hallway, where I sat on the bottom step of a stairwell in the wonderfully glamorous head-between-knees position. How he knew to look over at the moment, I'll never know.
So, when I finally made the decision to enter medical school, some of my close family/friends were nervous and understandably so. How would I make it through cadaver lab? Phlebotomy? Still, I was encouraged by my parents who remain some of the best sticks this side of the Mississippi (can I say that now that they live in CA instead of the South?) and by my dear friend, Jeannine Hall Gailey, who told me I would grow to love it. And while this growing to love it phenomenon definitely took time--the first several weeks of gross anatomy lab being all that I could do to stay in the room, with the occasional lab being almost more than I could handle (especially when we reached the face--a story for another time), I do remember the turning point.
My first dissection was the posterior leg (the leg being drilled into our heads as referring to what we commonly term the calf, which incidentally doesn't include the thigh.) When I unearthed the plantaris muscle with its long shiny tendon, I was enamored. Here we were looking upon a muscle, absent in up to 10% of the population, that was the counterpart to the palmaris longus, in the flexor compartment of the forearm, which helped us retract our once claws. Who knew these muscles existed--that they were so gorgeously rendered, these tendons slim and fine as curling ribbons?
Second year has brought phlebotomy, which has been back-and-forth for me. Sometimes, the thrill when you enter a vein at the right angle with the right depth and see the flash of blood into the butterfly tubing other times that sinking feeling when you do everything the way it should be and blood doesn't enter the vial. I am constantly reminded that if this were a game, there are days when I shoot 0/4, 4/4, or 2/5 (even with assists)--that this learning is equal parts kinesthetic, mental, and sometimes luck. Applying the trick of laughter to encourage dilation or being paired with someone whose veins are so gorgeously superficial or someone whose veins seem to hide every time you do a proper skin pull--is that luck, skill, a touch of both?
Last week, though, we entered a whole different territory in our clinical lab: the world of semen analysis. And while I would love to expound upon what we found, I will keep it brief for now. That evening, I found myself nonchalantly mentioning how we were exploring our school friend's little swimmers over a drink and appetizers with a non-medical student. He looked over at the table next to us and very politely suggested that maybe we keep this conversation between the two of us, while noticeably blushing. And while I can feel my Dutch side cringe at my bringing up such topic matter in the open air, I admit I'm somewhat pleased to have overcome the squeamishness that I worried might keep me from pursuing what I deemed love at first sight. And yes, I am speaking of medicine.
Natasha Kochicheril Moni is a writer and a licensed naturopath in WA State. Enjoying this blog? Feel free to put a little coffee in Natasha's cup, right here.