On Dissecting Humans

Today I held a human brain in my hands. It weighs about four pounds, slightly pink, squishy, and dense—just like you’d expect from the movies. We removed it from our cadaver, who we’d christened Agatha because we were never provided anything but her age and cause of death. Before we reached the pearl, though, we had to crack the oyster. Our professor presented our two grisly choices: bone saw or bone chisel?  We selected the former, which was essentially your everyday chopping device with the word “bone” tacked on the front. And off we went into the bony orb that holds so much, with such nonchalance that I began to question what the hell kind of person I was becoming.

8243262473_29fd1a62e7_o“Whoa,” I’d told my lab group. “Shouldn’t we say a few words or something? I mean, this is her face here. People used to recognize that face. She used to smile with it.”

My comments, of course, went unheeded. Not, as I must point out, because my lab group members are heartless, cold scientists. The field of medicine is like any other: a business. There are procedures you follow to achieve certain ends, and in medicine, emotion is not a part of the procedure. In fact, emotion can get in the way of what is at stake, particularly when it comes to cutting into some body.

So, while my team members were sawing and hammering at Agatha’s skull, I sat back. This body was someone—maybe not anymore, but once. She had lips and hair, fingernails painted dark, dark blue. This brain worked for Agatha her entire life, and here we were in our lives, making use of the parts she no longer needed.

Before long I succumbed to the joking, the poking, casual words exchanged over Agatha’s exposed parts. I made cuts, removed the top of her skull—skin and hair attached—and then her brain. Because what else can you do?  We all have a purpose in life, and each of them has certain rules of the game. To win at anything, you have to play by them.

Different people are cut out for different endeavors. For instance, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, and things like team sports have never been my friend. Other people are artists, and they might be horrified at the dry science and anatomy of medical school. At first, I felt like I fell into such a category. All my life I’ve been a writer, a wanderer, a yogi. And yet I was keenly aware of the underpinnings of human functioning, the intricate pathways that made our amazing machinery operate, and I was fascinated by the ways it could go wrong. But when I started medical school this year, the two sides of me didn’t want to meet. It felt like I was trying to lead two lives at once: one was scientific, rigorously pursuing logical explanations for phenomena that the other life, the yogi, felt and experienced.

Every person is looking for the same things in life—fulfillment, answers—but in different ways. The yogi seeks transcendence, liberation from the external stimuli to understand the patterns of existence. A doctor pursues scientific explanation for how things work, and understanding on such a minute scale the details of human functioning allows a doctor insights into the bigger picture—why we’re here, why we act the way we do. One is a top-down approach, where the other is bottom-up: two means to the same end.

We can’t fight who we are, and we can’t fight destiny. I come from a legacy of physicians, and for the longest time I resisted falling in line with the rest of the family. I wanted to be an artist, to be different. I scoffed at their reductivist views of life and the world. But after taking the year after graduation to travel the world, write, and teach yoga, I realized there was something more that was calling, another layer to my purpose, and the longer I waited, the harder it was to ignore. I was meant to be a doctor, and I realized that having an art-loving yogi inside my white coat would only add to the potentials afforded by either field alone.

I’m not saying it hasn’t been difficult. Medical school is so busy that I find myself desperate for time to exercise my creative passions, and every day I am surrounded by types who are quite different from those that I am used to surrounding myself with. It is a strong lesson for me to appreciate the nuances of the medical field and the very different sorts of people who are attracted to it, all while maintaining my own distinct identity. But despite the setbacks, being the oddball has proven to be a boon.

In that frigid anatomy lab, with gloved hands trembling and the stench of formaldehyde a thick cloud overhead, I took hold of the scalpel and looked Agatha dead in the face. I made an incision here, one more there, and with a little help from my friends retracted Agatha’s brain from her skull. The artist was there, though, so much so that the whole time I was handling Agatha’s brain my own was shouting reassurances at me, coaching me to breathe deep and slow and not to stop.

Future docs!

Future docs!

Throughout the cool callousness and analysis, the artist in me is able to tap into the bigger picture behind all the parts, pathways, labels, and medical jargon to realize that it’s all part of a greater effort. Day by day, through the collective efforts of different individuals in their different roles, we fill in the picture of what it means to be human, what it means to be alive, and why we’re here in the first place. We play our roles to keep moving forward, toward that light at the end of the tunnel that some call God. When a road block arises—say, a brain—you take a deep breath and remove it. You may be revolted,  but gradually you grow accustomed to the change. Poke it, appreciate it, and learn from it. Give thanks for the path you are on, and keep heading forward. In our own ways, it’s what we are all meant to do.



Master Cleansing: How-to from a Failure

Sometimes you just feel shitty, and last year I had a stroke of genius: I can do something about this!

It was the aftermath of a solid two weeks of merry-making during the holidays (read: casseroles rippling with engineered ingredients, sweets sugary enough to make your teeth ache, and booze dressed in all its costumes), and I was tired—literally. I was sluggish all the time but didn’t seem to be getting quality sleep. We are precisely what we eat, and my diet of whatever-I-wanted began to exert profound effects on my physical as well as emotional body. One fed right into the other.

Body ↔ Mind

Having just started working at Squeeze Juice Works, I was inspired to start a Master Cleanse, or “Lemonade Diet,” for 2 reasons: 1) my last cleansing experience was with juice, and it was a nightmare—mind you, I didn’t know what I do now about the importance of physical and mental preparation—but I was still reeling from the experience. 2) It was cheaper.

Because it was my first Master, I surrendered to the expertise of my colleagues at Squeeze and ordered a pre-made cleanse. (If you opt for this, call ahead to make sure they can do it on the dates you want!) Note: you want to pick a range of days where you won’t have a lot of stress or commitments. You don’t need to fart around the house all day, but you might want to take it easy since you are purging your body and things—mental, spiritual and physical will surface. This time, I knew exactly when I was doing my cleanse and how, so I was able to prep my body correctly by slowly eliminating processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, animal products, and eventually, all solid food in the days leading up to it. I also did a lot of meditating and reflecting at this time to iron out my goals for the cleanse. By providing your body the minimum requirements for energy, and nothing more, I wanted to:

  • detoxify, diverting the body’s energy towards purging the crap rather than assimilating more
  • clear up digestive issues and blockages (I later found out said blockages were more than physical…)
  • revitalize body functioning and feeling

The Good

The cleanse itself was easy for me, and I think it’s because I made sure I was ready for it. I wasn’t hungry, I loved the “lemonade”, I was in good spirits, and my energy was high. I felt so good that I decided to keep going for a day and a half over what I’d planned.

The Bad

Because my first time went so well, when my mom took an interest in doing it with me, I assured her I would do a quick one- or two-day for emotional support.

But it’s hard to coordinate with other people, and our different schedules made it hard to pick a range of suitable days where we could adequately prepare and maintain. Because our plans kept changing practically up until the start day, I went for the crash-course method of prepping: the one day elimination. One day, I was back to my usual morning coffee, three full meals per day, and maybe even a drink at night—and the next, I consumed barely three liquid meals (I had work and was so busy that I didn’t have time to properly prepare myself). The day after, I began cleansing. The whole ordeal was too last minute and uncertain. Yes, I had one day to prepare my body—though even then not correctly—but I was emotionally not ready.

“In my first cleanse, I was mentally calm and convicted, so perhaps that paved the way to move out some emotional baggage—this time, I was throwing it out windows.”

Today, I feel…pretty bad, and while I know this is a normal reaction to toxins being drawn out of tissues, I guess I didn’t realize just how my brief slip into unhealthy habits had affected me. This morning (day one), the salt water flush produced a violent reaction (think eight trips to the bathroom within the hour), and I was so nauseated from it that I couldn’t drink the lemonade until after noon. This made me weak. My body is aching (which could be an exacerbated reaction to a vigorous yoga practice and massage yesterday), and my energy is extremely low. I did take a solid nap, though.

Physical symptoms aside, I feel melancholy. I have little motivation (besides writing this post—yay!), feel contemplative and down about things in my past, and uncertain of my future. Mind you, this is not how I normally feel.

I’m sure this reaction will pass as my system, erm, passes, the impurities out of circulation, and I’m sure if I do decide to stay on the cleanse longer than today, my experience will improve. This is all not to mention feeling better afterwards. The first few days can be a gruesome fight if the cleanser (like me) doesn’t prepare for battle!


The Lowdown

Now that I’ve likely scared you away from cleansing, here’s how to do it! Please refer to Stanley Burrows’ official site and books if you’re serious about trying it and want more info. He also provides testimonials, FAQs, and the basis for this particular method.

  • The Salt Water Flush: Every morning before consuming anything, mix two teaspoons of non-iodized salt with 4 cups of lukewarm water. Drink the whole thing within 5 minutes. You will go the bathroom at least once, and it will likely be urgent. Make sure to allow sufficient time in your day to be near the bathroom for this. The SWF is OPTIONAL, but the reaction it produces facilitates with the cleansing process. (Think of eating shrimp, and how the “vein” that is often removed before consuming. This vein is actually the shrimp’s intestines, full of its poop. That’s how humans are, too. At any given time, we have poo backed up in our intestines and colon, and occasional cleansing empties it all out so we can start fresh. What a relief!)
  • Lemonade: The Master Cleanse lemonade is made with 10 oz of water, 2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of grade B maple syrup, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. These ratios can be adjusted depending on taste preference and hunger. For instance, if you’re feeling weak, more maple syrup can be more satisfying. Drink this whenever you feel hungry. You’re aiming for about 6-12 of these drinks per day.
  • Plenty of water! You’re drawing toxins out of your body, so it’s imperative to drink plenty of water to flush them out. Otherwise, they’ll just sit there and eventually get reabsorbed.
  • Herbal Tea: At nights (and in the morning, if opting out of the SWF), it is recommended to have a cup of Senna Tea. Senna is a naturally occurring laxative herb, and often you can find it in tea bags mixed with chamomile or other herbs. Drink this about an hour before bed because for some people (myself included), senna is a foreign substance, and the body can have mild reactions to consuming it for the first time. Think gas, discomfort, and cramps. But, if you take it before bed, chances are you’ll sleep through these symptoms, and you’ll wake up ready to go. (Note: it is also optional to drink herbal peppermint tea for a change of palette, but this should be kept to a minimum.)