Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Do doctors dream of prosected sheep?

Didactic, I think, would be the word of the day. Today we finished our lecture series on anatomy of the Head & Neck. Having completed the associated dissections yesterday, our lab periods for the day were filled with a very drawn out set of tutorials. That meant two hours of lectures, and five hours of tutorial (with our day cut one hour shorter than usual).

Let me tell you a bit about my tutorials. Our lab instructor is an aged Oriental man, and former surgeon, by the name of Ming. As a result, our lab group has the nickname "Ming Dynasty." His dissection is so fast and incredible that it makes the rest of us look like children fetuses by compare. His knowledge is vast, and he certainly takes every opportunity to teach us (old school, via chalk board and overheads). In fact, he's a rather amazing artist, and puts together these rather incredible and impromptu anatomy teaching diagrams on the chalkboard. To top it off, he has a very warm and caring demeanour as well as a rather quirky and amicable sense of humour. In fact, he's kind of cute in that way that elderly people can be in almost a regression to an aura of childhood innocence and charm.

This all sounds pretty good, so I admit with a little bit of guilt that I fequently have difficulty staying awake once he begins to talk. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, the classrooms in the Medical Sciences Building are gross. They have that windowless, crammed, yellow-lit, concrete sterility that is all too common among Cold War era architechture. Just sitting in our tutorial room for a long time makes my head kind of swell up in agony.

Second of all, Ming likes to talk. His English is heavily accented and slow, and he teaches in kind of a circular motion - once through, twice through, thrice through. In tutorials where there are fixed number of questions to answer, there is a blitz to the end in the final few minutes because Ming can spend an hour piecing together the answer for a single question for us, when four or five more questions are waiting. In a way, he's kind of like Stephane Dion. Smart. Amicable. We love him, but sometimes it's just hard to listen to him speak for hours at a time.

So yes, I was nodding off today. Something that has come to the forefront of my attention recently is how warped my sense of reality becomes when I am nodding off. The first time I expressed this in verbal terms was to my friend "Zo" sometime last week. We had the lab period off, so we headed over to the library to study. But in my state of chronic sleep debt, I found my mind gradually drifing off as I sat in my chair. As I snapped back to reality, I had a little sense of what my dreamy state had been before coming to attention.

I tried to describe this feeling to Zo, but I found myself struggling for words. While I had a general sense of this quasi-attentive state, I had no solid examples. This makes sense, because as you fall asleep you start to dream; but if you violently interrupt that progression, your mind is left dazed, and the components of that dream are left completely shattered.

Since then, I have been trying actively to retain pieces of my semi-dream state from when I am nodding off in lecture (or, in this case, tutorial). Essentially what happens is that reality merges with reality to become fiction. I have the material that I am learning in my mind, and then my mind drifts tangentially off topic. Often what happens is a humanization of the learning material, as anatomical parts begin to take on the characteristics of people or even organizations.

Let me give you an example from today. Ming was heartily describing the innervation of the face. One of the major nerves of the face is Cranial Nerve VII, the Facial Nerve. The Facial Nerve does a big job innervating virtually all the muscles of facial expression. As Ming was wrapping up his talk on the Facial Nerve, he described a very small branch that was given off at the bottom, the Chorda Tympani, which innervates the submandibular salivary glands (just under your skull, in front of your neck). As I was already drifting off at this point, I had started thinking of the regions of the face as having human feelings... so in my mind the submandibular glands were like a very tiny region of the world (think Blind River, Ontario... a town so tiny that you are unlikely to know where it is unless you live there). It's unlikely to get what it needs, except for this big important nerve (like a rock star) taking an interest in it, and sending over some of its attention. As I popped back into consciousness, I thought to myself, "Wait a minute... this doesn't make sense at all."

I quickly scribbed this down as blogworthy material (that I was already rapidly forgetting) onto my hand: "VII - Big nerve takes pity on local region"

Sounds like a headline in the morning news. And so, as I drift in an out of consciousness during lectures, I often find strange intersections of realities to generate fantasy. Like most dreams, they don't quite make sense when put under scrutiny. In fact, in my quest to pin down a solid example of these quasi-dreams, I have sometimes tried to piece my thoughts back together, only to find that the items I was trying to remember were based on ideas that were also dreamed up... and at that point the trail went cold (the dream had been too completely lost to my unconsious to put it back together). I call them quasi-dreams because I'm never quite fully asleep, it is a cyclic state of concentration and de-concentration as I try to stay awake.

So what else happened while I was nodding off? Well I forgot the tutorial package today, so I was peeking off Yuffie's notes.

Andy: What happened to part h)?
Yuffie: Huh?
Andy: Did we already do h)?
Yuffie: We're on part g). g) is after f)...
Andy: f)... g)... h)... oh yeah...
Yuffie: You should write that on your blog.
Andy: No no... it'll make me look too stupid.

In the end, I thought it was amusing enough to post. Besides, it's only fair, since I post other people's funny stories like this one and that one.

One last one: On our way out of class, someone asked another friend if they had seen my blog. He paused, and then turned to me to say:

"You have a blog? I hate bloggers! ...No offense."



Anonymous said...

aha! so you've finally admitted that you love Ming too! He's amazing...he's so wise. Makes my day everyday!

eleasa said...

"VII - Big nerve takes pity on local region" - hahaha. i love how you wrote this down & how much it made sense to you at the time. now it makes for quite the random/hilarious statement.

i remember making study notes as i was drifting into sleep, & i wrote down a conclusion statement, which i read the next morning & was completely confounded by it. of course, i don't remember what it is now. but i know exactly the feeling you're describing, trying to pinpoint those fleeting dreams in between dozing in & out of the lecture. those moments of sleep are so precious, yet at the cost of embarrassing oneself.

& ouch indeed to that last comment! what does he have against bloggers?

a_ndy said...

Haha... he said he hates how Bloggers post all the time and then check many times a day to see if anyone commented on their stuff. Well, he's got me pegged. Actually, I get e-mail notifications of comments...