A Rush of Blood to the Head

I’m not talking about the Coldplay album–although it’s a good one. I’m talking about the rush of blood to the head that occurs anytime you take a good lick to your noggin’. For Garrison Keillor, a close encounter with a low-lying beam elicits the memory of his old battle-hardened, ex-Marine journalism professor at the University of Minnesota, Mr. Robert Lindsay. For me, it’s the memory of the understated brutality of my old, formaldehyde-soaked anatomy professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Steven Zehren.

For the most part, I sailed through an academically challenging public high school and Harding University without too much difficulty. My string of academic success was severely threatened in the Fall of 1986, though, as I entered Dr. Zehren’s gross anatomy lab, located deep in the bowels of Volker Hall, just down the hall from the dungeon and the torture chamber. It was no mere anatomy lab–it was the place where dreams of a professional career go to die. Very slowly, and with considerable pain. Many entered, but only a few returned.

Or so they said. And I was stupid enough to believe all the hype and became convinced that I would finally, after all those years of being a “smart one,” be exposed as an academic fraud. Oh, it was tough mind you. My cranium expanded a few millimeters as I struggled to memorize millions of pieces of anatomical minutiae, and then, for heaven’s sake, apply it. But with the help of my lab partners and much encouragement from Eyegal (you must pass this class or we starve!), I lived to tell the tale. Still, a bump on the head does bring to mind images of Dr. Zehren, standing there in his yellow-tinged lab coat, a skull in one hand, an unclaimed humerus in the other, grinning that wicked grin of his.

Did I mention that he was from Wis-KAHN-son? Well, he was. As it turned out, so was one of my lab partners, Laurie. One of my other lab partners was Carl, from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Carl would tease Laurie mercilessly about her accent. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

“Listen ta Laurie,” Carl would gleefully drawl. “You shore kin tell that girl’s from Wis-KAHN-son!”

One day, Dr. Zerhen approached our table and stood quietly as we worked away on our 300 lb. female cadaver whom we had affectionately named “Bertha” (well, actually “Big Bertha,” although we were careful not to call her that around Dr. Zerhen). He listened in as Carl started in again on Laurie and her funny way of pronouncing things.

In a very casual way, Dr. Zerhen leaned over our table to look at our dissection. He then looked at Carl, smiled an evil grin, and in his best Osh Kosh B’ Gosh accent proclaimed:

“Carl, I’m from Wis-KAHN-son too.”

The rush of blood from Carl’s head was extraordinary, leaving him just a shade whiter than Big Bertha. And for a moment there, I thought we had another cadaver on our hands.

  1. Mike the Eyeguy

    Let’s hear it for those from our past who were hell-bent on teaching us a lesson, no matter how much it hurt!

    Anyone care to add to the list?

  2. Laurie

    No lesson, but you brought back memories. I’ve gotten three Cs in my life — ninth grade PE (after I sprained my wrist doing hurdles and was too scared to do them again); Driver’s Ed (I was fifteen and, in my state, couldn’t practice by driving on the street); and Anatomy of the Head and Neck, a sophomore-level (unergrad) cadaver dissection course.

    To this day I don’t think I could tell you how to tell a vein from an artery. I faked my way to a C and was happy to get it. And I’ll never forget how, on lab days, the smell of formaldehyde permeated my clothes, so I’d have to run home to change before my next class. (Lab day also became laundry day.) And the look of formaldehyde-preserved muscle tissue to this day reminds me of dried-out turkey leftovers. And the smell of bone saw slicing through bone always made me think of corn chips. A very similar odor, for some reason. (I couldn’t eat fritos for years after this class.)

    We named our cadaver Carla (Carla Cadaver.) I have always, ever since, regretted not naming her Abra.

    I haven’t thought of that class in years. But for some reason people are always impressed when I tell them I had to take a cadaver dissection class.

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Laurie, successfully completing a cadaver dissection class places you in elite company. You should be proud.

    Yes, the formaldehyde soaked not just the clothes, but straight through to the skin as well. Sometimes it took a Brillo pad to get the stench off.

    Big Bertha was a pain at first. As you can imagine, it took a lot of time to find things. But as the quarter wore on and the more lean cadavers started to dry out, we learned two important things:

    1) Large cadavers better retain moisture over the long haul
    2) Large cadavers have large vessels and nerves, making them easier to find (once all the fat is gone, that is)

    Eventually, everyone wanted to stop by our table. “Party at Mike and Carl’s!” they would exclaim. We were so popular–and proud.

  4. Stoogelover

    So did Carl pass the class? Reminds me of an incident a few years ago at a Zoe worship conference in Nashville. A friend and I were looking through books when I noticed a newly published book by a certain professor at Lipscomb. The book looked interesting, but I said to my friend, “I had Dr. ____ at Lipscomb. He was one boring professor. I hope he writes better than he lectures.” No sooner had the words cleared my lips than the professor’s wife (who had not introduced nor identified herself as such) offered to re-introduce me to her husband … standing right behind me! Needless to say, I not only purchased the book, but asked him to sign it for me … with affection toward a former student! He was very gracious and the book was a very good read.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    Carl survived. He’s back in E-town, just practicing away.

    That’s a funny story. Did LU try to revoke your diploma? Or maybe now it has an asterisk.*

    *Had habit of insulting professors behind their backs–or so he thought.

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    For those of you who may have missed it the first time, here’s a post about my own favorite episodes of raking students over the coals.

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