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For Michael Crichton, being a Harvard-trained physician, the author of two bestsellers, and a movie director is not enough. It is, he resolves, time to travel. From swimming with sharks in Tahiti to psychic experiences in the American desert, Crichton records his exhilarating quest through the familiar and exotic frontiers of the outer world.
It is not easy to cut through a human head with a hacksaw.
The blade kept snagging the skin, and slipping off the smooth bone of the forehead. If I made a mistake, I slid to one side or the other, and I would not saw precisely down the center of the nose, the mouth, the chin, the throat. It required tremendous concentration. I had to pay close attention, and at the same time I could not really acknowledge what I was doing, because it was so horrible.
Four students had shared this cadaver for months, but it fell to me to cut open the old woman's head. I made the others leave the room while I worked on it. They couldn't watch without making jokes, which interfered with my concentration.
The bones of the nose were particularly delicate, I had to proceed carefully, to cut without shattering these tissue-thin bones. Several times I stopped, cleaned the bits of bone from the teeth of the blade with my fingertips, and then continued. As I sawed back and forth, concentrating on doing a good job, I was reminded that I had never imagined my life would turn out this way.
I had never particularly intended to become a doctor. I had grown up in a suburb of New York City, where my father was a journalist. No one in my family was a doctor, and my own early experiences with medicine were not encouraging: I fainted whenever I was given injections, or had blood drawn.
I had gone to college planning to become a writer, but early on a scientific tendency appeared. In the English department at Harvard, my writing style was severely criticized and I was receiving grades of C or C+ on my papers. At eighteen, I was vainabout my writing and felt it was Harvard, and not I, that was in error, so I decided to make an experiment. The next assignment was a paper on Gulliver's Travels, and I remembered an essay by George Orwell that might fit. With some hesitation, I retyped Orwell's essay and submitted it as my own. I hesitated because if I were caught for plagiarism I would be expelled; but I was pretty sure that my instructor was not only wrong about writing styles, but poorly read as well. In any case, George Orwell got a B- at Harvard, which convinced me that the English department was too difficult for me.
I decided to study anthropology instead. But I doubted my desire to continue as a graduate student in anthropology, so I began taking premed courses, just in case.
In general, I found Harvard an exciting place, where people were genuinely focused on study and learning, and with no special emphasis on grades. But to take a premed course was to step into a different world -- nasty and competitive. The most critical course was organic chemistry, Chem 20, and it was widely known as a "screw your buddy" course. In lectures, if you didn't hear what the instructor had said and asked the person next to you, he'd give you the wrong information; thus you were better off leaning over to look at his notes, but in that case hewas likely to cover his notes so you couldn't see. In the labs, if you asked the person at the next bench a question, he'd tell you the wrong answer in the hope that you would make a mistake or, even better, start a fire. We were marked down for starting fires. In my year, I had the dubious distinction of starting more lab fires than anyone else, including a spectacular ether fire that set the ceiling aflame and left large scorch marks, a stigmata of ineptitude hanging over my head for the rest of the year. I was uncomfortable with the hostile and paranoid attitude this course demanded for success. I thought that a humane profession like medicine ought to encourage other values in its candidates. But nobody was asking my opinion. I got through it as best I could. I imagine medicine to be a caring profession, and a scientific one as well. It was so fast-moving that its practitioners could not afford to be dogmatic; they would be flexible and open-minded. It was certainly interesting work, and there was no doubt that you were doing something worthwhile with your life, helping sick people.
So I applied to medical schools, took the Medical College Aptitude Tests, had my interviews, and was accepted. Then I got a fellowship for study in Europe, which postponed my start for a year.
But the following year I went to Boston, rented an apartment in Roxbury near the Harvard Medical School, bought my furniture, and registered for my classes. And it was at the registration that I first was confronted by the prospect of dissecting a human cadaver.
As first-year students, we had scrutinized the schedule and had seen that we would be given cadavers on the first day. We could talk of nothing else. We questioned the second-year students, old hands who regarded us with amused tolerance. They gave us advice. Try and get a man, not a woman. Try and get a black person, not a white. A thin person, not a fat one. And try to get one that hadn't been dead too many years.
Dutifully, we made notes and waited for the fateful Monday morning. We imagined the scene, remembered how Broderick Crawford had played it in Not as a Stranger, growling at the terrified students, "There's nothing funny about death," before he whipped the cover off the corpse.
In the amphitheater that morning, Don Fawcett, professor of anatomy, gave the first lecture. There was no corpse in the room. Dr. Fawcett was tall and composed, not at all like Broderick Crawford, and he spent most of the time on academic details ...Travels. Copyright © by Michael Crichton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.