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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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400134878
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 08/01/2007
Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Christine Montross is a practicing inpatient psychiatrist and an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

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

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

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Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Meggo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent story of one medical student's experience in the gross anatomy lab, overlaid with personal stories and reflections. Told predominantly from her perspective as a first year medical student, the story is eminently human and readable. She has not yet begun to truly objectify patients as she must to survive the grueling process of becoming a doctor. An excellent and thought provoking book that makes one consider what it is to be human.
porchsitter55 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Intelligent, intriguing, beautiful, horrible.....all these words accurately describe this memoir of a young woman's entry into the world of the human anatomy lab. Christine began her journey with unbridled anticipation of what she would encounter during her first semester at medical school. What she experienced was far beyond anything she had imagined. The author takes the reader through a first hand look at groups of young, inexperienced med students as they gather around "their" corpse in the anatomy lab. There are eighteen corpses to go around, with four or five students per corpse.Between her strongly emotional and physical reactions to this experience, and her surprising emotional attachment to "her" corpse, whom they named Eve, the author takes us through the many changes that the practice of dissection of the body has gone through since the early, early times in Europe and how the physicians during that time often had to resort to grave robbing in order to provide their students and themselves bodies to use for dissection and learning, due to the banishment of the practice by the Catholic church at that time.Christine also writes of her intense feelings of invasion into Eve's body, but also the gratitude of the gift that Eve gave in order for these students to learn from. Throughout the semester, the reader watches as Christine grows more and more sure of herself as she gets familiar with the human anatomy, in a way that no textbook could provide. But also the reader sees Christine come of age in recognizing the true humanity in each person she comes into contact with during her rounds, and finding her place as a physician in the world of illness and disease.I found the book to be absolutely beautifully written, incredibly interesting and although gruesome at times for the lay person, as myself, it was an enthralling book about the reality of human dissection and the start of this young woman's challenging choice of professions.
AHibbert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this as research for something I'm writing, but it is amazing and beautiful and striking. It also has some wonderfully gruesome history in it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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:
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!!!