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

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

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by Christine Montross, Renee Raudman
     
 

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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

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.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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
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.
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
From the Publisher
"[Raudman's] tone, like Montross's writing, is often irreverent and dryly funny, without ever being disrespectful." —AudioFile

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400154876
Publisher:
Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
08/01/2007
Edition description:
MP3 - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)

What People are saying about this

Thomas Lynch
The table and the blade, blood and bodies, dissection and discernment -- such are the properties of the medical arts. From her hands-in, hands-on study of parts, whole persons emerge in Dr. Montross's wonderfully curious text. Here are ample doses of metaphor and good medicine. (Thomas Lynch, author of Booking Passage, The Undertaking and Bodies in Motion and at Rest)
Edward Hoagland
This is a book about crossing the bar. The anatomies discussed here are diverse and gripping, and remind me of the essays of Richard Selzer, which is a high compliment indeed. (Edward Hoagland, author of Compass Points)
Jerome Groopman
This is a new voice in medical writing: lyrical, insightful, introspective. Montross, by probing deeply into the hidden recesses of the body, brilliantly illuminates the soul. A welcome debut. (Jerome Groopman, MD, Recanati Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, author of How Doctors Think)
Katrina Firlik
How lucky we are that a poet decided to become a physician. Although all physicians share a personal history of countless hours in the human anatomy lab, only a rare few, I suspect, would be able to so deftly illuminate this transforming and peculiar experience. Montross is a master of detail, so much so that I was shocked to find myself hovering over my own cadaver in medical school again, holding a scalpel as if for the first time. (Katrina Firlik, MD, Neurosurgeon and author of Another Day in the Frontal Lobe)
Richard Selzer
The physician, like the sculptor, approaches the human body with reverence and admiration. Carried a little further, it becomes worship. In Body of Work, an unflinching memoirist conveys the process, both emotional and intellectual, by which human anatomy is mastered by the doctor-to-be. It should be read by anyone with aspirations for a life in medicine. (Richard Selzer, author of Mortal Lessons, The Doctor Stories and Letters to a Young Doctor)
From the Publisher
"[Raudman's] tone, like Montross's writing, is often irreverent and dryly funny, without ever being disrespectful." —-AudioFile

Meet the Author

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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Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An unbelievably well written account of a student's first year in Medical School. I am going to start med school in the summer and I am so happy I found this book. Must read for anyone even remotely interested in medicine.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Body of Work is a masterpiece representation of art (poetry) meeting science. I found myself unable to put it down and dreaded completing it. Dr. Montross has given the reader a very rare glimpse into the psyche and life of a medical student. She was open, honest,and specific. Body of Work was also very lyrical and read with incredible ease. I really liked how Dr. Montross incorporated Fine Art (her research in Italy), History, and Medicine, which made the book cohesive and readable for anyone, whether an artist or a medical professional or not. Thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to future books by this author. It is highly likely that I will read this one again. Thanks for a great book, Dr. Montross and Congratulations!!!