Head, Shoulders, Knees, and… Uncinate Process. Just Like You’d Expect.

On Monday we had a 5-hour anatomy test.

Which means that my weekend was awesome. It was, really.

The minutes and hours of Saturday morning and then afternoon swiftly danced their way into the past, but not without leaving my lecture notes fluorescently highlighted, my box of Barbara’s Peanut Butter Puffins empty, and my brain brimming with concepts yet to be solidified. In the evening I ventured up the hill to the anatomy lab, where I met my classmate Daniel for a final opportunity to practice finding structures on real bodies.

Armed with a 17-page list of Latin-or-not names, we spent four and a half hours navigating our way through the thorax, abdomen, and pelvis, consulting Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy where clarification was needed. One of us would read a term off the list while the other located it with our gloved fingers, or in the more delicate cases, a forceps. As we identified lobes of the liver, sections of duodenum, branches of the celiac trunk, and complex plexuses of pelvic nerves, I was alternately encouraged by the things I did know, overwhelmed by the things I had yet to learn, and inspired by the body’s elegance of design.

“Pancreas:” I read, “body, head, neck, tail, and uncinate process. Do you know all of those?” “Maybe, but I’m not completely sure,” Daniel said, as he exposed the pancreas and started looking. I, for one, was certain of my uncertainty regarding the whereabouts of the uncinate process, so I flipped some pages in Netter and discovered that the structure in question was a tucked-under extension of the pancreas head. Meanwhile, Daniel’s inspection of the organ in situ inspired a mental analogy to the form of a seahorse, so he looked across the table at me and declared, “They’re just the way you’d expect them to be.” That’s what he said, but the deeper meaning might have been: you too, Anne, ought to be familiar with the spatial relationships of a head, neck, body, and tail, and I am mildly concerned that you are using a book to look up something so straightforward. I looked back at him and chuckled, “you are right, Daniel; of course the uncinate process is an extension of the head… logical!” We laughed a bit, commited the obvious fact to memory, and studied on into the night.

Monday morning I spent a few hours with Julia brushing up on the embryology sections that would be covered on the exam. An hour or so before the test, we walked across campus to the Kohler Pavillion to take a look across the Willamette and clear our brains of cobwebs. The cool, moist air smacked of a Portland autumn. Multilayered, deep gray clouds shrouded our view of Mt. Hood, though thanks to the preceding summer of bluebird days (my first Portland summer) I could point in the  precise direction where I would have expected that stunning outline to be. As we soaked in the view Julia said, “we get a whole year where we don’t have to worry about anything except for learning as much as we can!” I had to agree that the situation was a good one. I thought about the remarkable gift the donors had given in allowing us to explore their bodies. It was like they had granted us a season of clear skies, where day after day we could directly touch and handle body organs, thereby gaining a familiarity that can’t be gleaned from books, images, or surface anatomy alone.

Converting massive amounts of information into knowledge that is my own requires a lot of awesome weekends. But slowly, gradually, complex relationships are becoming more expected to me.

Just like I now expect Mount Hood to be 50 miles south-southeast of Portland.

And the uncinate process to be tucked under the head of the pancreas.

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  1. Just like you created the world’s most epic, silver-painted, incredibly detailed bicycle pinata… :)

  2. Anne – You write beautifully. I am informed and inspired by you., I will never – ever – think of the uncinate process without thinking of you!!

  3. Written like a super-PAS
    Worthy of Grey’s Anatomy, Yes

    Your grades, like Portland rain, no surprise
    Your ability to succeed, much like sunrise

    Every bit, smart as a whip.

    Nothing finer, than Anne Heiner

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