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Picking Apart My Brain

I was one of the first into lab from my group of eight. On the table was a clear plastic container filled with a solution of 10% formaldehyde. The container sat on a tray — a tray that you might find in a cafeteria.

I slipped the tray out from underneath the container and carefully opened the container. The smell was strong. The liquid looked a little brownish. I reached in, my gloves on, and pulled out a human brain. Well, at least half of a human brain. It had already been cut down the middle — a clean cut separating the left and the right brain.

The day’s lab only required examining one hemisphere. Already having arbitrarily chosen one side, I placed my half-brain onto the tray and went to the special sink to rinse off the formaldehyde solution.

In line I looked around. It was a weird scene. Students waiting in line. All holding cafeteria trays that carried a human brain.

After finding and identifying all the structures on our checklist, it was time to leave the lab. The brain slices were returned to their smelly solution. Most of our nostrils burned. Someone’s eyes were teary.

Neuro lab was a little strange. Gross examination wasn’t that bad. I mean, I’d seen plenty of brains in pictures. It was the slicing that I felt weird about. It cut so easily. Almost like a kiwi, without the skin. Or maybe think JELL-O, the kind with fruit inside.

But, I think the best example, if you’re familiar with it, would be tofu. The hard kind. Not the soft tofu used for soup. It’s actually how Katrina Firlik, MD (a neurosurgeon) described the consistency of brain in her book Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, which, by the way, as an awesome book.

A classmate commented that its so strange watching it. We are cutting up someone’s brain. At one time, the cells in this brain we were now cutting up, fired off electrical impulses. It commanded muscle groups and regulated complex functions. It held someone’s memories.

Occasionally I get these moments in medical school. Moments in which I stand in awe. I am amazed at what I am holding, or touching, or seeing. I like those moments. I’d like more of them, too. I think they help me push on through the drudgery of having to study all the time.

And now, its late and I’m sleepy. So I’ll end this post here.

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  • LOL. I think you described it perfectly.

    Just wait until you touch your first beating heart. It’s such a surreal feeling!

  • LOL. I think you described it perfectly.

    Just wait until you touch your first beating heart. It’s such a surreal feeling!

  • meg

    WOW deep jeff, well written. Glad you told me how it was cause now I know I will never never get near a brain, or a dead body. keep posting

  • meg

    WOW deep jeff, well written. Glad you told me how it was cause now I know I will never never get near a brain, or a dead body. keep posting