Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What A Piece Of Work Is Man

"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals--

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

A few months ago, I decided to change my tac; I'd been pursuing a degree in Pharmacy originally. A friend, who is studying nursing, and who I had classes with-- the prerequisites for the two programs are, in the beginning, almost identical-- was trying to talk me into it.

I thought about it a great deal. Were I to stay on the Pharmacy path, it would mean two more years of prerequisites, including some brutal upper level Chemistry classes, and then, cross my fingers, admittance into Pharmacy school, and then another four years of school-- if I got in; they only take about 10% of their applicants.

On the other hand, I could stay at the school I was at for two more years and get an RN degree-- and be done with school before my son starts college. With a job that will allow me to pay for his college. And they take close to 50% of their applicants.

In the end, the nursing idea won out. I've applied to the nursing program at Truman College, a Chicago city college. I'm waiting to find out whether I get in. There was one thing, though, that stood in the way, whether I had stayed on the path to a Pharmacy degree or my current one in nursing: Anatomy.

I'd been nervous about it from the beginning. Memorizing huge lists of strange words is not my strong suit. Last month, I put trepidation aside and began Biology 226-- Human Anatomy.

To make a long story short, I'm loving the class. I don't feel like I'm memorizing a huge list of strange terms; I feel like I'm entering a fascinating world of form and function, of miraculously evolved macroscopic and microscopic structures that, by the one, two, couple of dozen, millions and billions, work quietly, supporting, transporting, seeing, feeling, generating energy, secreting chemicals that control (in terms of a human body) far-off organs and tissues, processing information, attacking invaders, healing wounds, thinking and even creating life.

Like military planning, in Anatomy, the devil is in the details. Knowing the difference between an endocrine and exocrine glands; the difference between collagen, elastic and reticular fibers, and places in our anatomy where all three are found together; the difference between the three types of cartilage in the body and why blood is considered a connective tissue, even though it doesn't connect anything.

I am somehow comforted knowing that two weeks ago, I couldn't tell you the difference between regular and irregular dense connective tissue, but now I can tell you where it is found in the body and why. Two weeks ago, I would have been at a loss to tell you what stratum cornium and stratum spinosum were. Now I can discuss the difference between damage of the two-- it's the difference between sunburn and a burn that needs to be treated in a hospital.

And don't even get me started on Langer lines and the different sensations that Merckle and Meissner cells in the skin pick up.

I love this stuff.

I'm hungry. When I studied Political Science, History and Economics twenty-some years ago, I couldn't wait for the next class. I was hungry. Hungry enough to get a bachelor's and then Master's degree in Political Science, and minoring in the other two subjects. On the other hand, when I studied teaching, it was a means to an end. The theories of teaching left me dry. I loved teaching, but not learning about teaching. This stuff intoxicates me. Yesterday, we learned where in the approximately 206 bones of our body we have blood-cell producing marrow. We learned that the hands and feet have over half of those bones. We learned the difference between osteoblasts and osteoclasts and the fact that bones have blood vessels and small holes called foramins that allow blood vessels into the bone. According to the book, tomorrow we'll look at bone homeostasis-- the remodeling and repair of bones. I can't wait.

Oh, and we have a short lab tomorrow on top of the classwork-- we'll be extracting DNA. Way cool!

I've talked to both of my kids how it's much easier to learn stuff when you're interested-- or even fascinated by it. I'm fascinated by what I'm studying-- the human body-- and fascinated by how learning about the minutiae of it makes me more, not less awed by the big picture its workings.

Maybe this has been influenced by the combination of raising a couple of lovely kids, the Facebook-expedited resumptions of some old treasured friendships, and realizing just how much I lost with the death of a beautiful old friend a few years ago, but as I study the nuts and bolts of these buckets of water, carbon, nitrogen and a few other elements that are put together in the amazing, innovative way that millions of years of evolution has done, I think that the most amazing thing, beyond the complex and sometimes improbable way these collections of proteins, lipids and minerals are put together, is the fact that they somehow provide a vessel for a concousness, a soul and, if it all works out, a conscience. What a piece of work is man-- and woman too.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Good for you man, I hope you make it all the way.

Mnmom said...

I second what Monkey said.

I am also fascinated by human anatomy. It's amazing that we can even put one foot in front of the other on a daily basis. And equally amazing how comparatively little things go wrong.

SkylersDad said...

This is very good news for all of your future patients JY! You will make a wonderful nurse.

And about the Hamlet quote, bah! Norzbitz the alien from the Delta quadrant summed it up more more succinctly:

"They're meat"

Cheer34 said...

good luck with all your classes.....will you be a traveling nurse...If I ever get sick I want you as my nurse....so you would have to travel....just asking....ya know preparing for the future

lulu said...

Good for you! However, as an English teacher, I have to quibble with your use of this passage, which ends "Man delights not me" as clearly you are delighted.

Churlita said...

I was a nursing assistant in an ob/gyn clinic for a couple of years once. We did everything the nurses did, except giving shots and dispensing meds. I loved the work, but I was only making about $8 an hour to be exposed to blood bourne pathogens, so I had to work in an office instead.

Johnny Yen said...

Dr. Monkerstein-
Thanks! So far so good!

The more you learn, the more you're amazed. Even at a cellular level, there's an incredible complexity going on. There's so much to go wrong, but the body has redundant protective mechanisms. It's when these things go haywire or we overwhelm them with our bad habits that there are problems.

Skyler's Dad-
Better close up that wormhole/portal before Norbitz and his buddies get here!

I'll probably stay put, but the travelling nurse thing is financially tempting-- they make absurd amounts of money.

Trust an English teacher to bust me! You're correct-- I selectively quoted. The quote's actually one of despair.

If you're ever seen "Withnail and I," that line from Hamlet is the last line in the movie-- Withnail is standing in the rain at the zoo after his best friend has left him to take a train to his new job on a hit tv series. It's very moving.

Good that you're out of that environment. One of my best friend's mother worked in a lab and was exposed to-- and contracted-- Hepatitis C.

Powderhornhockey said...

Like you I to was simply astounded by A&P for the first time the work to get A's was a joy. I know you are a non believer but one of the things I left the class with was a great respect for the sheer art and design that went into the human body. Nice work God!

If you love A&P just wait until you get to Histo/Path and physical assessment, honey you are going to blow your mind!

Tenacious S said...

As a fellow science geek, I totally get the anatomy buzz. I always got good grades in my Anatomy classes simply because I loved them. Enjoy!

bubbles said...

Sounds like you have found a passion, JY!

What is this "evolution" you speak of? ;-)

Dale said...

I loved the Anatomy and Physiology courses I took for work and I'm lucky to get to work with some fantastic nurses too. I hope the learning love goes on and on Johnny Yen.

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