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

Overview

This is a hauntingly moving memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and the first-year medical student who cuts her open.

Christine Montross was a nervous first-year medical student, standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class, preparing herself for what was to come. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags is shocking no matter how long you've prepared yourself, but a strange thing happened when Montross met her ...

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

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Overview

This is a hauntingly moving memoir of the relationship between a cadaver named Eve and the first-year medical student who cuts her open.

Christine Montross was a nervous first-year medical student, standing outside the anatomy lab on her first day of class, preparing herself for what was to come. Entering a room with stainless-steel tables topped by corpses in body bags is shocking no matter how long you've prepared yourself, but a strange thing happened when Montross met her cadaver. Instead of being disgusted by her, she was utterly intrigued—intrigued by the person the woman once was, humbled by the sacrifice she had made in donating her body to science, and fascinated by the strange, unsettling beauty of the human form. They called her Eve. This is the story of Montross and Eve—the student and the subject—and the surprising relationship that grew between them.

Body of Work is a mesmerizing, rarely seen glimpse into the day-to-day life of a medical student—yet one that follows naturally in the footsteps of recent highly successful literary renderings of the mysteries of medicine, such as Atul Gawande's Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. Christine Montross was a poet long before she became a doctor, and she brings an uncommon perspective to the emotional difficulty of the first year of medical school—the dispiriting task of remaining clinical and detached while in the anatomy lab, and the struggle with the line you've crossed by violating another's body once you leave it.

Montross was so affected by her experience with Eve that she undertook to learn more about the history of cadavers and the study of anatomy. She visited an autopsy lab in Ireland and the University of Padua in Italy where Vesalius, a forefather of anatomy, once studied. She learned about body snatchers and grave robbers and anatomists who practiced their work on live criminals. Her disturbing, often entertaining anecdotes enrich this exquisitely crafted memoir, endowing an eerie beauty to the world of a doctor-in-training. Body of Work is an unforgettable examination of the mysteries of the human body and a remarkable look at our relationship with both the living and the dead.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Christine Montross's encounter with her cadaver "friend" Eve began on what should have been an eerie note. Entering the anatomy lab on her first day of class, nervous newbie Christine spotted her first study corpse prone on a cold stainless steel table. Instead of being repulsed, Montross found herself utterly intrigued and also deeply moved by Eve's ultimate sacrifice of her own body to science. In Body of Work, she recounts with sensitivity and reverence how her relationship with her subject transformed elementary anatomy lessons into an indelible human experience. An unforgettable meditation on mortality.
From the Publisher
"[Raudman's] tone, like Montross's writing, is often irreverent and dryly funny, without ever being disrespectful." —-AudioFile
New York Times Book Review
Eloquent and persuasive. . . . The author dissects her own emotions as deftly as she does . . . the cadaver, her pen as revelatory as her scalpel.
Washington Post
An exceptionally thoughtful memoir . . . [a] beautiful book.
Entertainment Weekly
Unflinching . . . insightful . . . sparklingly lucid.
Rachel Hartigan Shea
Montross was a poet before she was a doctor, and her language in Body of Work, an exceptionally thoughtful memoir about the first semester of medical school, is as precise as her scalpel cuts become by the final exam…We should be grateful, too—especially those of us who squirm away from the physical truths of our existence—for this beautiful book and the glimpse it offers of a place off limits to anyone without Montross's clearsighted courage.
—The Washington Post
Mary Roach
Medical professionals will find much to comfort, but also to challenge, themselves in these pages. The book is of even more value to patients. I will no longer complain so readily about a doctor who seems uncaring. Montross makes us aware of the profound and unavoidable dilemma at the core of doctoring: physicians must place themselves at the midpoint between “excessive emotional involvement with patients and a complete lack of empathy.” Montross describes her struggles to tread this shifting, fragile ground. During a conversation about whether to suspend the treatment of a dying cancer patient, the man’s daughter says to her, “If this were your father, what would you do?”
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Though it never goes for the gross-out effect, this memoir is not for the squeamish. "You begin to learn to heal the living by dismantling the dead," says Montross, and though her recollections encompass all of her medical training, the narrative backbone of the story is her semester-long dissection of a human cadaver, from opening up the ribcage to removing the brain from the skull. Montross was a poet and writing teacher before she decided to become a doctor, and she peppers her account of the dismantling of her cadaver, Eve—so named because she has no belly button—with arresting imagery: to test the heart's semilunar valves ("little half-moons that work passively and without musculature"), she and another student take the organ to a sink and run tap water through it. Performing her own dissection leads Montross to explore the history of studying anatomy through corpses, which brings tantalizing detours to medieval Italian universities and saints' shrines. But she also recounts her earliest encounters with living patients, such as a heart-wrenching consultation with a man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, who can communicate only by blinking. Her thoughtful meditations on balancing clinical detachment and emotional engagement will easily find a spot on the shortlist of great med school literature. (June 25)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400104871
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/1/2007
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Christine Montross is a resident in psychiatry at Brown University and a published poet.

Renée Raudman is a multi-award-winning audiobook narrator and actor. A multiple Audie Award nominee, she has earned a number of AudioFile Earphones Awards, and her narration of Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper was selected by Library Journal as one of the best audiobooks of 2009.

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Table of Contents


Preface: Mystery     1
Bone Box     7
First Cut     15
Breath and Blood     31
Anatomical Precedence     45
Origins of a Corpse     63
In Pursuit of Wonder     93
The Bodies of Strangers     119
Toll     137
The Discomfort of Doctoring     163
An Unsteady Balance     183
Pelvis     211
Dismantled     251
Epilogue: Good-bye     291
Bibliography     293
Acknowledgments     296
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2009

    Riveting!

    I'm going to start with a disclaimer. This book is certainly not for everyone, as the subtitle is "Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab". If you get squeamish easily, then scroll up or down for another review. If one of your favorite television shows is "Dr. G., Medical Examiner", then keep reading.

    This work of nonfiction grabs you from the very beginning. Christine Montross (now Dr.) is entering her first year as a med student. She knows that her first class will be Gross Anatomy, and that she will be responsible for dissecting a cadaver throughout the term. She knows nothing about the person she is dissecting.... hopes, dreams, memories, cause of death, family, etc. All she knows is that it is female with no belly button. Therefore, she and her lab partners decide to name her "Eve".

    This book is hauntingly beautiful as it explores the making of a doctor. The author intersperses the detachment needed in her lab dissections with stories of mortality in her own family and in other countries. I give this book the highest rating, but again, don't say I didn't warn you.

    MY RATING - 5

    To see my rating scale and to read other reviews, please visit my blog at:
    http://www.1776books.blogspot.com

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2008

    Excellent Read

    What a beautifully written story that helps to understand the bridge from regular person to physician thru the completion of gross anatomy lab. The book is well crafted with history and personal stories along the way. Highly recommended read.

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    Posted September 22, 2009

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    Posted November 10, 2009

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    Posted November 1, 2008

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    Posted September 22, 2010

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