In grade 11, my school gave top students a chance to participate in an enrichment program hosted by Queens University. We would be living for one week on the campus, sleeping in dorms, eating in the cafeteria, and taking a course that would give us some idea of the university environment.
Around this time I was still enthralled with the idea of being a doctor. Almost everything I did was with that specific goal in mind, so when I was offered the opportunity, I signed up for the “Hands-On Pathology” course. It was, or so I had heard, one of the most popular programs on offer, but I was lucky enough to get in.
Our week at Queens was amazing! My first view of the campus coincided with the sun coming out of the clouds and making the waters of the lake dance and sparkle. There were an assortment of after-class events you could sign up for, including astronomy or even just hanging out in the common room and watching a movie.
The class itself was incredible. We had experts come in and teach us about different aspects of pathology, including forensics, diagnosis, different aspects of medicine. The highlight of the class though had to be when we were brought over to the medical school and introduced to the teaching cadavers.
Imagine it: something like 40 high school packed into a room smelling strongly of formaldehyde. There are several medical tables covered with white sheets. The instructors called us into one area of the room, where the bulges underneath the sheets were much smaller.
They turned out to be different limbs, severed from the main body. We were invited to examine them.
All of us stood around the various tables nervously, no one entirely confident about facing a body part that had once belonged to a living breathing human being. You could hear the sound of awkward shuffling as people tried to work up the courage to touch it.
Finally unable to handle the awkwardness, I grabbed the hand of the severed arm in front of me and shook, introducing myself. What followed was each of the students one by one introducing themselves to the arm. We decided to name it Bertha.
By that point, we were able to move on to the larger cadavers. There were four of them, each with different causes of death, already dissected for our learning pleasure. I had initiated a pattern where people who felt uncomfortable found a way to make it funny, calling the skullcap a soup bowl, or joking that the ribcage is a corset.
For many people in the class, this was the first time being so close to a dead body. That can be an intense experience for a lot of people, and humour helped us cope. After a few jokes though, fascination took over and we took the time to explore and learn about the human body. While my class back home was learning about the cardiovascular system, I had my finger inside a human aorta.
After the cadavers, we were taken to a teaching room, where a pathologist was conducting an autopsy on a human brain. We got to sit and watch while he explained the whole procedure, including any of his findings.
He told us that a brain is about the consistency of Mozzarella cheese. You slice it much like a pineapple.
Once he was done, we were sent off to lunch.
Only two of us actually managed to eat that lunch. I had Hawaiian pizza.