Space, School, and Swallow Tests

Whoa. It’s been a while, huh? I thought that I’d have more time to write over the summer, but I ended up playing video games and making a third trip back to the Kennedy Space Center. Remind me to start writing more about space. Maybe this blog will have a dual focus: anatomy AND cosmology!

School is currently underway, and it’s more intense than I anticipated, but that’s okay because I appreciate a good challenge. We’re only three weeks in and I feel like I’ve already learned a lot. I’ve even seen some really cool procedures during my clinical days—right now I spend three days in the classroom and two days in the radiology department.

On my first day of clinicals, I watched a swallow test. It was a fluoroscopy exam, which means that the x-ray was taken in real-time so I could see what the structures of the mouth and throat looked like in real-time. Not a bad way to start off the semester! I found this video of a swallow test on YouTube in case you’re curious.

Since then I’ve had the privilege of observing radiation therapy, CT, and a special procedures case in which a balloon was inserted into the vein of a patient’s arm. All of this is in addition to general radiography (x-rays). By mid-October I should be taking my first chest ray! Also, I’m really looking forward to checking out MRI and my eventual rotation through surgery.

As for classes, I’m really digging radiation protection because it’s very science based. It lightly touches on the physics behind it all, and I can’t wait until we dive in completely in our upcoming physics class. I wish that I were enjoying my anatomy class more. This semester, we’re devoting an entire class to the skeletal system and its anatomy/physiology. It’s off to a slow start, so hopefully I’ll reignite my interest in the coming weeks.

The only downside is that I’m having a difficult time managing my time. It’s hard to balance my school workload with that of my job. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water. I need a better system, but I’m working on it. Speaking of, I should probably get back to studying!

The Museum of Death, Los Angeles, CA

This post originally appeared on my old blog, Bottle Up the Crazy, in 2011.

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museum of death

“Death is very likely the single best invention of life.” – Steve Jobs

Would it be strange to say that one of my favorite places in Los Angeles is the Museum of Death in Hollywood? Probably. Its location makes it seem like a tourist destination, much like a wax museum or a “house of freaks,” but I can assure you that it is anything but a novelty venue. Instead of focusing on shock value, co-founders Cathee Shultz and James Healy aim to educate visitors about the history and reality of death.

I still remember the small poster that hung on the wall at my first cadaver lab: “Mortui Vivos Docent,” or “Let the dead teach the living.”  While I would argue that I have an inquisitive mind when it comes to mortality, others would say that it is more of a morbid curiosity. Since I was young I have always had a fascination with death. It is not so much the removal of a person from this world that intrigues me, but rather what their body can teach us.

I’ll dive into my fondness for anatomy and physiology another time, however. The Museum of Death provides a unique experience (don’t let the giant skull outside fool you). Yes, the pictures are graphic, but if you can sit through all 30 Saw movies, you will have no problem making it through the museum.

You start in the serial killer room, which features newspaper clippings, art, and letters from various famed killers. Most of it is tacked up on the wall because the owners are constantly adding and changing the display as new items come in. The most interesting part was learning that both founders have reached out to various serial killers, including John Wayne Gacy and Charles Manson. If you have ever read the book “The Last Victim” by Jason Moss, you will understand why this is such a big deal.

The next rooms walk you through the history of the death penalty and the funeral process. The museum has a collection of matchbooks and fans from various funeral homes, including those with the most unfortunate names – Butcher Family Funeral Home, really? If you can stomach it, there is a video playing that describes the embalming process. It looks like one of those awful educational movies you would watch in grade school. From there you can look at a small collection of caskets, or you can go to what I guess to be the most popular room, the Tate-LaBianca room – or better known as the Charles Manson room.

Having just finished reading “Helter Skelter,” this room was the most interesting to me. It was also the most disturbing. It features photos from the crime scene and a tape of documentaries about the murders. The disturbing part was not the graphic images; however, it was my lack of a reaction to seeing them. I have done a remarkable job (and I don’t mean this in a pat-me-on-the-back kind of way) of detaching myself from death. Working in cadaver labs has helped me to develop a thick skin, but I also think that I have been desensitized thanks to movies and the news.

There are a few other really interesting rooms, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself. On my way out I stopped to talk with Cathee for a little while. I was curious about what motivated her to create the museum. We geeked out a bit over our shared love of anatomy and mortality and I wish that I had discovered this place sooner. After walking through the entire museum, I thought it was really cool that she reminded visitors to go live life as they left. The museum doesn’t exist to mock or make light of such a heavy topic, but rather it acts as a reminder to respect, appreciate, and enjoy life.

So next time someone cuts you off in traffic or gets your order wrong at Starbucks, add some perspective and let it go. And if that doesn’t work, re-read that Steve Jobs quote up there. If he can make you buy the same thing over and over again by slapping an “i” on it, then surely he can convince you to expand your horizons*.

* Don’t huff and puff; I am guilty of buying everything with an “i” on it, too.

Before A&P: Anatomical Directions, Planes, Cavities & Membranes

Anatomy and Physiology is different from the other science classes you’ve taken, and there’s a lot of memorization. But despite the complexity of the subject matter, you’re not destined to fail. There’s a lot of information that’ll be thrown at you, most of which you’ll be hearing for the first time. In order to do well, don’t let yourself fall behind.

There’s still a lot of time before the Fall semester begins. Throughout the summer, I’ll be introducing some basic anatomy and physiology concepts. These are things that you’ll learn about at the start of your class, but going in with a foundation will help you keep your head above water. Feel free to leave questions or requests for certain concepts in the comments.

In this post, I will focus on directional terms, planes, body cavities, and membranes.

Anatomical Position

This is one of the most fundamental lessons you’ll learn anatomy, and you’ll refer to it often. It’ll help you to better understand directional terms and tell the difference between your right and your cadaver’s right.

This is the anatomical position:

Anatomical Position Real

I recommend that you stand up and mimic this pose, as it’ll come in handy throughout the semester.

Directional Terms

Superior vs Inferior: toward or away from the head
Cephalic vs Caudal: toward the head, toward the feet
Medial vs Lateral: relative to the midline
Proximal vs Distal: used for limb structures; closer or further from the torso
Superficial vs Deep: relative to the surface of the body
Anterior (Ventral) vs Posterior (Dorsal): forward or toward the back

Anatomical Position

Note: Always regard directions from the perspective of the cadaver

Examples:

  • The head is superior to the stomach
  • The spinal cord is dorsal to the sternum
  • The toes are ventral to the heel
  • The hand is distal to the shoulder
  • The wrist is proximal to the index finger
  • The nose is medial to the eyes
  • The ears are lateral to the lips
  • Skin is superficial to muscle
  • Lungs are deep to ribs

Abdominal Regions

The abdomen is divided up into different quadrants and regions, which act as reference points for locating underlying organs.

Abdominal Regions

It might seem like a lot to remember, but here’s where being familiar with basic medical terminology can help. For example,

Chondro/o means cartilage and hypo- means below, so hypochondriac refers to the area of the upper abdomen just below the cartilage of the ribs.

Gastric means stomach and epi- means above, so epigastric refers to the area of the abdomen just above the stomach. And since we already know what hypo- means, hypogastric refers to the area of the abdomen just below the stomach.

Umbilical should be easy to remember—left over from the umbilical cord is the belly button!

Lumbar refers to the lower part of the back, so these regions should be easy to remember. Right lower back and left lower back.

Ilium is the largest of the three hip bones. The iliac crest is the curved superior border of the ilium. You can actually feel this if you put your hands on your waist and push down. So the iliac region is near the pelvis.

Anatomical Planes

Sagittal plane: runs vertically through body, separating right and left
Midsagittal plane: sagittal cut through the middle of the body, creating equal right and left halves
Transverse (horizontal) plane: runs parallel to the ground, separating superior and inferior portions
Frontal (coronal) plane: separates body into dorsal and ventral portions

Planes

Body Cavities

A body cavity is a fluid-filled space whose primary purpose is to prevent friction. The body is divided up into four main cavities:

  1. Dorsal cavity: contains the brain and spinal cord
  2. Ventral cavity: (aka the thoracic cavity) superior to diaphragm, contains heart and lungs
  3. Abdominal cavity: inferior to diaphragm, contains stomach, intestines, and kidneys
  4. Pelvic cavity: contains urinary bladder and internal reproductive organs

The abdominal and pelvic cavities are often combined, forming the abdominopelvic cavity.

Body-cavities

There are smaller serous cavities within the larger cavities for specific organs that also serve to reduce friction. They’re composed of:

  • The visceral serous membrane: cells lining the organ itself
  • Serous fluid: produced by membrane; functions as a buffer
  • The parietal serous membrane: located more superficially from the organ

membranes

A great way to remember this is to think of a baseball glove. The part that touches your hand is the visceral membrane and the outside of the glove is the parietal membrane. The space inside surrounding your hand is the serous fluid.

The Health Museum, Houston, TX

I visited the Health Museum during a recent trip to Houston. The Health Museum is an interactive science learning center located in the heart of the city’s Museum District. According to its website, the Health Museum’s mission is to “foster wonder and curiosity about health, medical science and the human body.”

The Health Museum Houston

As part of the Texas Medical Center, I had high hopes going in, but was ultimately left disappointed by how watered down the exhibits were. The Health Museum is a great place for kids to learn about the human body, but there was nothing there that hadn’t already been discussed, in depth, in my anatomy and physiology classes.

That said, I still had a lot of fun exploring the hands-on walkthrough of the human body. It’s not every day that a room is turned into a rib cage.

The Health Museum Houston Rib Cage

In addition to the rib cage, the museum housed larger-than-life replicas of the human brain, ear, and eye. A closed exhibit led me to believe that a human heart would soon be added to the collection. Each one had interactive animation and audio connected. It’s nothing new if you’ve already completed A&P, but it’s a fun refresher nonetheless. The downside was that many of the interactive components weren’t working properly or didn’t work at all — a risk you take with so many children pounding on buttons.

As someone who loves bones, I really enjoyed a leisurely bike ride with this guy:

The Health Museum Houston

As you pedal, so does the skeleton. After studying kinesiology, you know how your bones and joints work to perform specific movements, but it’s awesome to see it in real-time. It’s a really simple activity, but easily one of the most enjoyable for this anatomy-lover.

Admission is only $9 for non-member adults, and $7 for children and seniors. I visited on a Sunday morning, and it wasn’t crowded at all so I didn’t feel like I had to rush through any of the exhibits. If you’re bringing children, plan to spend a few hours, as there are a lot of interactive stations for them to explore. As adults, we probably spent two hours there and felt like we had seen everything we wanted to.

4 Must-Read Anatomy Books

I spend a lot of time reading a variety of books, but some of my all-time favorites are those dealing with anatomy, cadavers, pathology, and medical history. I’ve divided some of my favorites into different sections — anatomy, pathology/forensics, general medical, and mortuary — and I plan to highlight the best of the best (in my opinion) here. Today, I’m starting with anatomy.

It’s really difficult to pick favorites, so I chose four books that I’ve read more than once. In fact, I even own multiple copies of some of them. Here’s a bit about each one. If you decide to buy or borrow, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

must read anatomy books

The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy – Bill Hayes

The author, Bill Hayes, tells the story of the two men who created the most famous medical text of all time — Gray’s Anatomy. Part biography, part guided tour of the human body, The Anatomist explores the lives of these two men while balancing chapters with the author’s own experience inside an anatomy classroom dissecting cadavers. And if you don’t already own a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, you’ll probably place an order on Amazon after reading this.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal – Mary Roach

Mary Roach is one of the funniest science writers today, and one of my all-time favorite authors. In Gulp, Roach explores the bizarrely fascinating digestive system, answering questions like: Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? And so on.

As you’d expect with Roach, this isn’t a methodical top-to-bottom tour. It’s more delightful and memorable than that. She’s a gorgeous writer, a master of sly asides, puns, and the bizarre but ultimately relevant story, sounding at times like an absurdly well-informed comedian (her footnotes are must-reads). – Mari Malcolm, Amazon reviewer

Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach

See? I told you I love Mary Roach. Stiff was the very first book I read by this author, and the very first book I read about cadavers. In this book, Roach explores the role cadavers have played in some of science’s “boldest strides and weirdest undertakings.” From medical school classrooms to ballistics labs and car crash tests, Stiff takes a unique approach to issues surrounding death. This is a must read for anyone considering donating their body to science.

Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab – Christine Montross

This is another fantastic read for body donors and medical students. The author, Christine Montross, details her semester-long dissection of a human cadaver. She uses brilliant and beautiful imagery to describe the intricacies of the human body, it’s almost poetic — a stark difference from Roach’s humorous and airy take.

The story of Montross and Eve [the cadaver] is a tender and surprising examination of the mysteries of the human body, and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead. – The New York Times

Stay tuned for more book recommendations. Up next: pathology and forensics!

6 Study Tips for the HESI Exam

Last week, I had to take the Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) exam. This was part of the admissions process for the BSIT program I’m applying to. I had a lot of anxiety about it despite having studied for two weeks leading up to it. I don’t know about you, but standardized tests — specifically ones that have a significant impact on my future — make me panic. This is especially true of anything involving math.

In the past, I found that sometimes singing to myself before starting an exam helped calm my nerves. It was a simple way to trick my brain into thinking that the end of the world wouldn’t be prompted by turning my exam over. But unlike your run-of-the-mill exam, the HESI covers more than just one subject. It includes algebra, anatomy & physiology, biology, chemistry, grammar, physics, reading comprehension, and vocabulary.

The majority of my recent classes have been biology-based, so I felt very overwhelmed when I began preparing for my exam. As it turns out, all that panicking was pointless because I ended up scoring very well on it — I got a 94%. So I thought I’d share some of my study tips to help out anyone else who might be stressing over their upcoming exam.

Tip #1: Purchase a prep book

The Admission Assessment Exam Review, 3rd Edition was recommended to me by the woman proctoring the HESI at my school. I foolishly ignored her suggestion and instead found a cheaper option on Amazon. I ended up buying this book and I was really disappointed. Not only were there formatting errors, but there were significant typos and errors in the grammar, algebra, and biology sections.

Admission Assessment Exam Review, 3rd Edition

So yes, you might spend $10 more than you’d care to, but the quality of information you’ll receive will be infinitely better. I know this because a classmate bought the first book and was much happier with it than I was with my budget-friendly purchase.

Tip #2: Download a prep app

The HESI A2 Exam Prep iPhone app really came in handy when I was on the go. Rather that lug my prep book on the train with me, I was able to continue studying on my phone. While the app itself is free, it’s really limited. You’ll want to spend the $10 on the in-app purchases to unlock all of the subjects. From there you’ll have access to more than 1,000 practice questions and built-in study reminders.

HESI A2 Exam Prep iPhone app

Another reason the app is helpful is that it’s similar to how the actual test will be given. The HESI is a computerized exam, so studying from a paper prep book can sometimes throw you off. Don’t worry — you’ll be given plenty of scrap paper.

Tip #3: Find out which sections you’ll be tested on

Eight subjects seems like a lot, but you might not be required to study all of them. For my exam, I was tested only on algebra, biology, grammar, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Knowing this ahead of time, I was able to tailor my studying habits so I could focus on only the most important sections. Save yourself some grief and ask questions early. Don’t waste time trying to teach yourself physics if you don’t need it.

Tip #4: Study with multiple people

I found that it was really helpful to study with two different people: one who understood what it was that I was studying and one who didn’t.

This allowed me to review and practice the material in different ways. Studying with someone who understood the material came in handy when I didn’t fully grasp concepts. I could ask him questions and get detailed explanations. The latter came in handy later on when I wanted to make sure that I understood what I had learned.

If you don’t believe me, try explaining the stages of mitosis to someone who’s never studied it before. If they understand what you’ve described, then you have a really good handle on the mechanism. Of course this won’t work for every section, but I found it particularly useful for biology and vocabulary.

Tip #5: Don’t fill out practice tests in the book

To be clear, I’m not recommending that you ignore the practice tests. My advice is that you don’t fill in the answers to the practice questions in your book. Doing so will make it difficult to re-take the test since your answers will be visible. Erasing won’t help either. You won’t be able gauge how well you’re understanding the material if hints are clearly marked.

Furthermore, if you’re feeling really good about most of the questions, don’t keep repeating them. Save yourself some time and instead of repeating the entire test over and over again, just focus on the ones you got wrong. Then, once you’ve mastered those questions, retake the entire test one more time.

Tip #6: Time yourself

Although taking the practice test at home is much different from the actual test, it’s in your best interest to time yourself. The HESI exam has a four-hour time limit. That probably seems like a lot of time now, but it flies by — especially if you’re being tested on all eight of the subjects. Time your practice tests so you go into your real exam with an idea of where to start and how much time each section will eat up.

During my test, we couldn’t go back to previous questions. We had to answer each one and submit each answer. You’ll need to spend a bit of extra time on some of the questions since you can’t come back to it later. Timing yourself ahead of time will ensure that you’re able to give yourself some wiggle room during the exam.

If you’ve studied, the only thing left to do is relax and trust that you’ll do well. You know this stuff. Take a deep breath and begin. Good luck!

A Possible Change of Plans

It looks like plans are changing, again. The program I’ve spent the last two years working toward has changed from certification to a full bachelors degree. As a result, a last-minute pre-requisite was added and the tuition increased five-fold. It seems, from where I’m standing, that the curriculum will stay the same and the only thing changing is the piece of paper I’ll receive after two years. To me, that doesn’t justify the price hike. It’s disheartening to say the least.

A friend told me that it seemed like the universe was putting up road blocks because it had something else, something better perhaps in store for me. I didn’t believe her at the time, but a few weeks later I had a conversation with a mentor of mine and he told me about a pathology assistant program that I might be interested in. I had no idea that this existed, so I’m very excited about the possibility of enrolling. Pathology is more along the lines of what I’m interested in, since Medical Examiner was my initial goal.

The downside, at least for right now, is that I need a bachelors degree to be eligible for the pathology program. Bummer. So I’m looking into a bachelors of science in biology at a nearby university. If I can finish that in two years or less, and spend significantly less money on tuition in the process, then I will strongly consider that route. I’m just not sure I’ll enjoy two years in biology more than radiography. Unfortunately, I won’t have enough information to make my decision for another couple of months.

Until then, I’ll continue researching options and try to keep my spirits up. I don’t do change very well and when everything is out of my control I get itchy. The good news is that I’m almost done with my current semester and I will graduate in less than two months. Counting down the days!

Unrelated, I dug out some of my favorite anatomy and medical-related books from storage this past weekend and I can’t wait to tell you all about them! Stay tuned.

A Must-Have App for Anatomy & Physiology Students

What bothers me about anatomy & physiology lectures is that there’s so much information being presented that it’s impossible to grasp everything in the first go-around. Fortunately technology has given us access to a lot of remarkable resources that can help us make sense of it all.

One of my favorite and most-used iPad apps is Anatomy & Physiology REVEALED. I used it almost daily last semester during A&P 2, which was primarily physiologic processes and mechanisms that needed to be explained visually.

There are two versions: a full version for $49.99 and single-module versions for $12.99 each.

Anatomy and Physiology Revealed iPad app

The full version contains access to all of the modules:

  • Skeletal and muscular systems
  • Nervous system
  • Cardiovascular, lymphatic, and respiratory systems
  • Integumentary, digestive, urinary, reproductive, and endocrine systems
  • Body orientation, tissues, and cells and chemistry

Some of the key features include high-quality human cadaver images blended together with a layering technique that lets you peel away layers of the human body to reveal more than 5,000 structures. In addition, you’ll be able to explore interactive histology slides to learn microscopy anatomy of tissues. This past semester has given me a new appreciation for histology, so I recommend exploring this part of the app even if you’re not required to use slides.

For radiography students, the app includes labeled x-ray, MRI, and CT images to help you visualize and learn internal structures from an imaging perspective. I admittedly haven’t spent a lot of time looking at these yet, so if they don’t blow you away, I’m sorry.

The most useful part of this app (at least for me) is its library of videos and animations. I can read about a process over and over, but I need to see the mechanism for it to actually stick. The videos were especially valuable during the cardiovascular and respiratory chapters. Pressure gradients make my brain turn to mush.

Anatomy and Physiology Revealed iPad app

Some smaller, yet convenient features include quizzes that test your ability to identify anatomical structures and audio pronunciations.

As I said, the full version of the app is $49.99 but it’s well worth the money and it’ll help you all throughout your A&P classes — probably even beyond. There’s also an online version that students can purchase access to. I haven’t done this so I can’t tell you much about it. You can learn more about it here.

P.S. There’s also a version for Android.

Forgive the Radio Silence

I learned an important lesson this past summer: don’t start a new blog while taking calculus. Over the summer semester — which is eight weeks long by the way — I took Anatomy & Physiology I and pre-calculus. I followed that up with Anatomy & Physiology II and calculus in the fall. Hence the lack of posts on this here blog.

My A&P courses were fantastic, and I can’t wait to share some interesting fun facts and study tips with you all. Calculus, on the other hand, was a nightmare. I’m not mathematically inclined, but two semesters of calc helped me discover a new-found appreciation for algebra. Oh, how I miss solving for x!

But I’m not here to rant about sine and cosine. Consider this my warm-up post. I hope to spend a lot more time writing here in 2015, especially since I’ll (hopefully) be starting a brand new bachelors program in August to become a radiography technician. In the meantime, tune in soon for posts about autopsy seminars, must-hear medical podcasts, and more!

Celebrate Skull Appreciation Day With A DIY Skeleton Toy

Did you know that yesterday was Skull Appreciation Day? Why is this you may ask? It’s because Skull-A-Day (one of my favorite anatomy-themed websites, by the way) launched on June 4, 2007. And thus, every June 4th has been dubbed Skull Appreciation Day by its fans.

To honor this momentous occasion, the awesome people behind Skull-A-Day have shared this wonderful DIY skeleton toy that you can print out and create at home. There’s some assembly required — you can download the instructional PDF here.

jumpingjack