by Brielle Paolini
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Year in Medical School: 2nd
Place of birth:
College of William and Mary
Major in College:
Goals (Medical School and Beyond): To be happy and to accompany others on their search for bliss.
Personal Philosophy on Life and/or Medicine: In the present moment, we have access to infinite possibilities and joy, but what changes is our awareness of that almighty truth.
Favorite Quote: With our thoughts we make our world. - Gautama Buddha
I knew on the first day of anatomy lab that this experience was going to be profoundly special. On that day, we had to move our cadaver to the end of the table before flipping her over to look into her back. I remember needing to scoot her body to the end of the table. As I did this, my left hand flew to the back of her head cupping her occipital protuberance. Before I moved her, I paused. This kinesthetic motion was eerily familiar to me and I quickly associated it with supporting a baby’s head.
Here I was standing over my cadaver, cradling her head just as a mother supports her child’s head. My cadaver, much like an infant, reclined on the sterile table, nude and completely vulnerable. She was there to be my first teacher and in return, at that moment, I vowed to treat her as a mother would treat her child- with love and the utmost respect. Affectionately, I started calling her, Sweetness.
As the weeks rolled on and we got further into the dissection, I got to know Sweetness on a much more intimate level. I learned the twists and turns of her arteries, nerves and veins and memorized Latin names for schematic organization.
Last week as we were learning the movements of the arm, I was reminded of a quote by Michelangelo who believed that the human body was the perfection of design. In 1560 he wrote, “It is certain that the elements that make up the framework of a building are akin to the limbs of the body. Only a man who can reproduce the human figure and is well-versed in anatomy knows anything about architecture.”
Taking inspiration from Michelangelo and his painting of the Sistine Chapel, I decided to come in and to sketch the body in a different light. As I aesthetically studied the contours and tendons of the hand, I couldn’t help but marvel at the absolute beauty of the human machine. I had got so lost in tracing arteries and nerves and studying what could potentially go wrong with the body that I had almost forgotten its intrinsic beauty and the fact that it is a miracle that the thing ever worked in the first place!
As I started drawing Sweetness’ hand, I started thinking about not only how those muscles looked but also what she had done in her life to shape those muscles. Perhaps she had strong flexors from kneading dough to make her children bread or a strong adductor pollicis from squeezing her husband’s hand. Here were her hands and imprinted on them were ninety-four years of her interactions with the physical world. Here was a woman, whose life was something much greater than just the sum of her parts just as my drawing slowly morphed into something much more than just charcoal and paper.
So here is a dissected view of Adam and God’s hands as drawn by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel. No matter whether or not you believe that man was created in God’s image, I think that each of us have to agree there is something divine about the design of the human body. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to become intimate with its architecture and to be reminded of the miracle of human life. And for that, I am forever indebted to the kindness and bravery of my cadaver, Sweetness.
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