Friday, September 25, 2009

Science Words

Today I took my first Anatomy and Physiology exam. There will be four this semester. This one covered a general overview of the eleven systems of the body (can you name them?), the anatomical terms for the regions of the body (what do you call the region at the front of the elbow? Huh? Huh?), the directional terms of the body (the gall bladder is what to the liver?), the nine regions of the abdominopelvic cavity, the structure and function of cellular anatomy (oy vey), the twenty tissues of the body (epithelial, connective, nervous, and muscular--don't get me started on the nightmare of learning to distinguish between each kind of epithelial and connective tissue), the various membranes of the body, and the integumentary system in great detail, which is composed of the skin, hair, nails, and associated glands.

It's a lot to know. It's a lot to sort through. I commented to my professor, "You're so lucky that you just already know all of this stuff." I mean it. Here I am complaining that smooth muscle tissue looks deviously close to dense regular connective tissue under the microscope, and to her trained eye, they're apple and orange. I want that. In every field of knowledge. It's just cool to know things, to understand them.

I am in awe of the vocabulary of science. So many words! That's the thing that stands out to me regularly. There are words for everything! And just when you think you've identified it all, No! Each of those things has parts, and each of those parts has a name, and those parts have parts with names too! It's very organized. And kind of chaotic too, until I make sense of it all. All those years of Latin sure are paying off, but some of that is countered by my aging brain that isn't quite as spongy as it was the first go-round in school.

The first exam was in the lab, on a big screen, with a paper answer blank where we would write our answers. 50 questions, shown one at a time on the screen, with an image of a body structure or tissue or cell, with an arrow pointing to something that we were to identify. The image of the lungs came up with an arrow pointing to the membrane covering them. My mind went blank. I knew the lungs were in the pleural cavity, and I knew the membrane attached to the organ is the visceral membrane, but what was the other word? My mind finally gave me 'pleura'. Visceral pleura. I wrote it down, but not with a great deal of confidence.

For the next exam, we moved to the computer lab, a strange museum-like room with taxidermied animals on shelves and behind glass cabinets staring at us, and a wall of fetuses at varying stages of development in jars that I couldn't quite get my mind off of. This part of the exam was multiple choice on the computer. That dang lung membrane question came up again. One of the answers was indeed pleura. I checked it. But several questions later, I went back. There was that word 'peritoneum' too. Wait, was that it? Mesothelium and endothelium I knew were not contenders, but suddenly I couldn't remember what peritoneum was. Maybe 'pleura' was a trick, to confuse us with the pleural cavity but not membrane? I went through this whole thing in my mind, that if I put 'pleura' as my answer, then I could get both questions correct, or I could get both questions incorrect. If I put 'peritoneum' here, I could at least get one of them right. I took the chance to cover my bases.

Stupid girl. It was, indeed, pleura. (Peritoneum is the membrane that lines the organs in the abdominal cavity. Oh yeah!) Why do I always doubt my instincts?

Oh well. The first exam is behind me now, and I feel so relieved. I spent so many hours in preparation. Up to my eyes in words, words, words. Dreaming of tissue samples and stages of mitosis and the layers of the epidermis. When I got home, I fell asleep for over two hours, just mentally drained.

This weekend I will take a break from studies, and then on Monday, I will hit the books again and begin learning the words of the skeletal system. These words, at least, will not be completely foreign to me. Especially the radius. (Did I tell you that embarrassing story?)

Oh. Well, here goes. So, the first week of class, the bookstore ran out of texts and lab manuals. I was able to get a book from Amazon, but no manual, which left me feeling very insecure. Our first class, we were to get into lab groups and complete a few experiments regarding relationships between bone length and height. We had to measure each other's arms, measure heights, and figure the relationship. (40%, in case you're wondering). Not having the lab manual in my possession, I had to rely on just the photocopied pages of the lab report that was due that my professor was kind enough to scan in for those of us without. One section of the report asked for a hypothesis of the relationship between the radius and the height. (Here's the embarrassing part.) Without the full instructions, and in full math gear with all the measurements, I hesitated only a minute about the word 'radius'. I mean, a radius is half the distance across a circle, and the length of the arm is almost half the height of the person, so whatever. I completed my lab report with those figures, arm length to height. The night before the report was due, someone else as clueless as I was posted on the class website about that question, to which the professor corrected him with, "No (dummy) the radius is a bone in the arm."

Oh yeah. I remember that now.


There were five skeletons in the lab room that we were supposed to have measured radii on in class. Obviously, my group didn't understand that at all. I didn't know what to do. This was our first graded assignment, and no late turn-ins would be accepted, despite the fact that having manuals was out of our control.

I decided to chance it. I stuffed a tape measure into my purse and went to school several hours early, picked up a newly arrived manual, went up to the 4th floor of the science building and sat outside of my classroom, where another class was being held. Not knowing why I was even sitting there, after 30 minutes or so I got up to go over to the library and try to figure out the rest of the lab report the best I could on my own arm, through flesh and tissue. But then I had the distinct impression to stay, sitting there on the floor. So I did.

Five minutes later, the doors fly open and students file out. I asked someone if they were on break or finished, and they were finished, so I figured now was my chance to sneak in and get some measurements before the professor locked up the door. I was hoping not to be noticed in the flow of bodies leaving. I ducked in, set my books on the lab table and whipped out my measuring tape. I started measuring skeletons like crazy, jotting down numbers on a scrap piece of paper. The professor saw me almost immediately.

"What are you doing?" he asked me.

"I'm in Professor Trendler's class at 1:00 and I just got my lab manual and need some measurements," I said meekly.

(And here was my anatomy miracle)

"Oh. Well, I'll just leave the door unlocked and you can go ahead and stay in here and have the room to yourself then," he offered.

I thanked him profusely and continued measuring and writing, and then figuring and analyzing. I had over an hour in the room all by myself, enough time to get the numbers and the lab report ready to turn in. I was immensely grateful for that little prompting that kept me sitting on the floor of the hallway. Heavenly Father even cares about my lab reports.

And all of this, so that I can now tell you that the radius is the larger of the two bones in the forearm, and it is approximately 15% of a person's height. Just so you know. And just so you know that sometimes I am a complete moron when it comes to words.

But three words I will never forget: pleura, peritoneum, radius.

And now you won't either.


Life as I Know it said...

Hang in there Jenna. I took A&P a few years ago, and remember feeling so overwhelmed. If your book has a CD companion, I would use it. That helped me a ton. Oh, embarrassing story for me. I was pulling a model off the shelf in lab and knocked over the male genitalia anatomy model which split in half. I was mortified. A&P is fun and so interesting. You will do great.

Andrea Moore said...

I really had to think about it. It's surprising how easy some are to forget. I studied Anatomy & Physiology too.


Jenna said...

Discipled Pilgrim--hi! You are oh, so close! Sensory would be part of both integumentary and nervous, so the 11th system is endocrine.

And Brandy, yes the CD is a huge help, as are several other online tools that have access through the book. It is interesting though, so at least I have that! Love your story. :)

The Damsel In DisDress said...

oh goodness. I am in such awe. There's a reason I was a music major. The music kind of identification and classification works for my brain, this does not.

I will try not to be jealous that you apparently can do both. :)

Luisa Perkins said...

I know it feels traumatic, but how exciting it all is! Revel in drinking from the fire hydrant of knowledge.


Megan said...

Seriously hard stuff. I haven't thought much about it since I was an underclassman in high school.

Here's a hint for anyone else struggling with the peritoneum... and I give full credit to the health and suffering of my mother. Peritoneal dialysis is done through a cavity in the trunk with a tube that extends out from the stomach. (One memory of it is the time she had to do that type of dialysis at my desk in the dorms as I moved into BYU.)

Rachel Sue said...

Wow. I do not envy you in this one. I have a horrible time remember words that look alike. It took me reading Lord of the Rings like 3 times before I got all of the names straight--especially the elves--they all look the same! I would never make it through a class like that.

Josiah said...

See? this is what happens when you let nerds be the first to name things. If regular people had been the first to disect a human cadaver, then all of these systems and parts would have names like "purplish snake thing" and "slimy airbag cover".

Julie Wright said...

wow! just wow. You are amazing to be doing all this. And I loved your story about the radius :)

YogaNana said...

I like Josiah's system.