Sarah Goodwin

Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
March 16, 1999

HUMAN DISSECTION:Author Spends Semester in Emory Anatomy Lab to Chronicle Med School Rite of Passage

A semester is a long time to hold one's breath, but for one author, the result was worth the effort.

Albert Howard Carter III Ph.D., chronicles in his book First Cut: A Season in the Anatomy Lab (Picador, 1997), the semester he spent as an observer in the anatomy lab at the Emory University School of Medicine. A course in human dissection is required of all first year medical students at Emory ­ and from Dr. Carter's humanist perspective, represents a rite of passage into physician-hood.

Dr. Carter is professor of comparative literature and humanities at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. His work of creative nonfiction, Rising from the Flames: The Experience of the Severely Burned, describes the physical -- and nonphysical ­ battles faced by burn victims.

The following is a taste of First Cut:

"...Now Karl examines the heart, turning it over in his hands. He trims up around it, pats it with paper towels, and starts to identify the coronary arteries. Soon he sets it down and turns to the chest cavity. But he has seen me staring.

Come take a look,' he invites.

I walk across the aisle to look at this complex thing, meaty, but punched with holes. I lean forward in my starched lab coat, my hands clasped behind me. About the size and shape of a fist, the heart lies on a paper towel. The color of cardiac muscle is somewhere between red and brown, but there are also bands of yellow fat and eight scattered holes, through which I glimpse the four chambers that pump our blood.

Under the diagonal bands of fat lie portions of the coronary arteries; I can see them circling down from the top of the heart, vaguely like the "crown" that the word coronary suggests. So, I think, these are the faithful fellows that you don't want to clog with fat.

Go ahead, pick it up: it even fits real well,' Karl says. I place my gloved hand over the heart and grasp it gingerly. When it doesn't collapse, I gently tighten my fingers around it. This odd thing pumps in my chest right now, I think.

I turn my hand over, and the heart settles into my palm perfectly, just as Karl said.

Hey, you're right,' I say, and he smiles, a beginner in anatomy, but already a teacher to me..."


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