Narrative Medicine Monday: Anatomy Lesson

Poet Nellie Hill illuminates the process of learning anatomy in her Bellevue Literary Review poem, “Anatomy Lesson.” She notes that to “understand the heart you’ve got to memorize…” I remember searching for ways to memorize, as one professor put it, the “firehose” of information required as a new medical student. Anatomy is especially daunting, with all the blood vessels, nerves, muscle origins and insertions. Dissecting cadavers in anatomy lab is a rite of passage for every medical student, but we also drew pictures, color-coded organ systems, made up songs and stories to help us remember the essential information that is the human body. Hill starts with memorization, but takes the reader on a journey down the “snake path” of the body “to where thoughts become memories or dreams.” I like the imagery of “anatomy stacked like a ladder from your toes” and how Hill hints that the functional organ itself may also hold an intangible purpose.

Writing Prompt: Think about when you first learned anatomy. Even if you’re not in the healthcare field and never took a more intensive course in the subject, we all learn about basic bones and organs as children. Did learning about anatomy help you to see the body, and your own body, differently? When was the last time you thought about anatomy? What are your thoughts on how the physical body or certain organs might be connected to a greater or hidden purpose (acupressure points, the mind-body connection)? Write for ten minutes.


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Free Write Friday: Bike

We walk the bike to the cul-de-sac, center the powder blue contraption in the middle of the street. My dad’s leathered hand holds the back of the white banana seat. I clamber on, gripping the handle bars till my knuckles whiten. I lean too far forward as the bike teeters precariously side-to-side. A white wicker basket hangs from the front, adorned with plastic daisy flowers in bright colors; it is the consolation prize for a hand-me-down bike from my brother, meant to transform it to an acceptable level of femininity.

I push one sneakered foot down, then circle the other. My ankles waver as my dad trots behind. I glance anxiously over my shoulder; is he still there? Pumping my legs, the sudden transition to stability is exhilarating. Wind slapping my face, wisps of dark hair waving behind. I’m flying!

I suddenly panic, remember: I’m unsteady, I’m unsure, this is new. Is he there? I turn just slightly, a glance for comfort. But he’s gone, far behind me. As he grows smaller in the distance, the angst in my own chest expands. “Keep going! You’re doing it!” He shouts. But the trembling, the uncertainty have already taken hold. Anxiety disrupts and I topple: bloodied knees, gaping frustration as I crash down.

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Free Write Friday: Reading Peter

The cream cord spiraled on the Formica counter. My mom lifted me up as I held the receiver to my ear. My grandmother was on the other end, eager to hear what I had to say. I balanced the book on my lap, turned the worn pages with sage lettering and delicate drawings of a defiant rabbit, an angry gardener and a new jacket left behind.

The letters still swam, but I sorted them out, plucked each from the recesses of my mind: a pool of shapes and lines intersecting and crossing, curving around. Then I linked them together, like one boxcar to the next. I paused with each sound so they were connected but staccato, not quite cohesive.

I remember it being difficult, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Some synapse connected and I could read. I could make sense of the shapes strung together like Christmas lights. Like magnets they drew themselves together; like a baby babbling they sounded themselves out. I didn’t have to work at it anymore; it was automatic. Like breathing or the beating of the chambers of the heart: involuntary and subconscious. I only thought about it if I stumbled, skipped a beat.

My grandmother listened patiently as I read each page, pondered each picture. I later wondered if I was actually reading, if it was all a farce, if I simply memorized the whole thing, not knowing what memorization really was; it only came as the vaguest sense that maybe I was an impostor, deceiving my loved ones. I felt uneasy.

I still feel unsettled sometimes, like maybe I am an imposter in this life of mine, pulling a ruse over all those involved. My insecurities linger, from that five-year-old sitting on the counter, grandmother on the line. I wonder have I really achieved what I think I’ve accomplished, or is it simply an elaborate mimicking of all that I should know.

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