I spent my birthday cutting up brains

Yesterday, I asked myself a strange question.

“If I told me __ year old self that I would spend my 28th birthday cutting up brains, would I believe it?”

Yes, it was my birthday.  And Patrick got me all four seasons of Everwood and I had surprise birthday cupcakes and bowling with the Child and D and I capitalized on tons of discounts and bought too many books with the gift card my parents gave me.  I ate a free donair and had ice cream and even got a real latte on a weekday morning (very luxurious).  It was a good  birthday as far as birthdays go, especially for me.

But, I did spend a chunk of my day cutting up brains.

As I have mentioned before, I am on a Pathology rotation.

As a result, I spent my birthday cutting up brains.

The last few days were neuropathology.  That meant, well, brain cutting.  Complete with a scalpel, butcher knife, forceps and a pancake flipper (to put the brain pieces we don’t use for slides back in the bucket for storage).

I suck at neuroanatomy.  My med school took it seriously, but I forgot all of it promptly after escaping the fumes of formalin that came to be known in my house as, “smelling like brains” (there is no better way to start your marriage than coming home to your husband “smelling like brains” and being told to go take a shower because you are that gross).  I need to learn it, but unlike the neuropathologist and neurosurg resident I was working with, I have to know the anatomy of, well, everything and learn other stuff too.

So, not only do I have poor manipulative skills, but I struggle to name arteries or know what structure is where (beyond the obvious, which are very different for me and for the pathologist) or what every structure does.  I did know these things.  Often it sounds familiar, but clearly not familiar enough.  And it doesn’t help when the other “learner” knows everything about brain anatomy.

I felt stupid.

It seems that is a trend this year, I have had a few rotations full of feeling stunned.  I hate feeling stunned.

Turns out, though, I am good at cutting the stuff up.  I follow directions well and have the right level of not caring about every little structure, but not butchering the right stuff.  My poor manipulative skills are improving.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t learn all of the anatomy over night.

I spent my birthday cutting up brains.

It is a strangely fascinating thing to do.  To see the anatomy first hand.  To try to figure out possible causes of death.  To start the process of confirming dementia.  To see how such small structures control such important things.

The brain stem.  The epicentre.  Where everything goes through.  It is just a bit bigger than a thumb.

The pituitary gland that controls all of our hormone production.  So small, you could lose it.  Pearl small.

Our bodies are so cool.

I spent my birthday cutting up brains.

When I was in Nuc Med, everyone made me promise I wouldn’t do surgery because of my terrible intention tremor and accident proneness.  I agreed.  Then, they were shocked to hear about me having to rotate through surgery.  Then, I had to do it again.  I am pretty sure cutting up brains (dead or alive) counts in what we were describing as surgery.

I still have all my fingers.  No harm came to anything or anyone (well, except my pride).

Patrick says that I was so weird as a kid and teen, I probably would believe I would cut up brains because I was strangely fascinated with the body.

Maybe.  But, once I hit Nuc Med and realized that I didn’t like surgery or cutting things up, probably not.

I spent my birthday cutting up brains.

Not many people get to say that.

I do.

That makes me really fortunate.  Even if it isn’t my favourite thing.

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14 thoughts on “I spent my birthday cutting up brains

    • I love seeing the physiology come to life, so to speak. Seeing what makes a tumour bad by looking at how it infiltrates tissue. Or where pathways are located in the brain and how disease causes them to change. Fascinating stuff.

  1. Happy Birthday Trisha! You are right!! Not everyone can say they spent their birthday cutting up brains! How can you ever forget this birthday?!!

  2. You had me at books & a latte–not so much at cutting up brains. I don’t even cut hair. I’m that dangerous:). Not good with the finer motor skills. Am glad someone is, though. I hope it was a great day!

    • I wish that I could have stopped at books and a latte.
      I laughed so hard when you inferred I am good with the finer motor skills. I am definitely not, that is probably what makes the brain cutting seem more ridiculous to me. Nobody would want me cutting their hair. I did cut my own bangs once… They were crooked. 🙂

  3. Haha! I totally get what you say about the brain smell. It smells different from a normal cadaver, doesn’t it?! I remember attending brain cuts (although as undergrads we weren’t allowed to cut them ourselves) – it was always fascinating but it sounds like your neuroanatomy is almost as bad as mine. That’s a relief, for me.

    Also, Happy Birthday! I’m glad you had a good day – and that you found positivity in the less-nice part.

    • Thanks!
      Brain smell is slightly different. It is strange being allowed to do the cuts. I saw them once as an undergrad too. But I still feel so under qualified (especially given my poor neuroanatomy skills) to do it. We were VERY supervised, though.

  4. Happy Belated Birthday! And you’re right, most people certainly can’t say that they cut up brains on their birthday (or anytime for that matter)!

    • Thanks! I’m glad I’m not alone on that. I had a friend who was really into neuro, so she got me through it in undergrad. I wished I had a phone-a-friend option during that day, I totally would have called her.

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