They say it may be the hardest class at my college. The instructors argue that actually, Physiology is the hardest. The students, almost every single one I’ve spoken to (which is about 100), say that Anatomy is by far the hardest class they have ever taken at this particular school. These are both A and C (sometimes F) students alike. They all come out preaching “difficult,” “challenging,” or “overwhelming.”
“Don’t be disillusioned by the easy pace of week one,” They all say, both students and instructors. I smile and nod, and don’t really understand, because week one feels like an enormously fast pace to the crawl of a life I’ve been leading in the last semester up to this point. I feel like a bear waking from hibernation and being forced to sprint through the forest.
Lab. I’ll start there. I like it, doing things hands on. I like that, for the first time in my college years (besides my nursing assistant program), instructors in a classroom are telling me that theory is only half the battle and getting out there and doing it is where the true learning comes in. I know this to be a near truism in life and yet it seems like the entire academic world that I’ve been immersed in up until this point may have told us that experience is the best teacher, but only taught me from the textbook or a PowerPoint while saying those exact words.
My textbook shows me a perfectly prepared slide that was put under a microscope and then professionally photographed a section of tissue. It is characteristically recognizable according to the various points the textbook says to look for in order to identify a tissue, and I think, “Well, if it looks even half as bad as that in the lab I should still be able to figure out what it is.”
I spent three hours today with seven different types of tissue. And yet, for the life of me, I still got the esophagus and the small intestine and the vagina all mixed up. One has microvilli? Oh sure, those little hairs look crystal clear in my book. But under the microscope, it was just barely a blur from my perspective. One has cilia, the longer hairs, you say? Well, those sure look short and barely noticeable to me. I tried, repeatedly to guess correctly, giving myself a little pre-lab test (the real test is the week after next), and I couldn’t. I really couldn’t. You say there is a gland right in front of my face? For the life of me, I cannot see it. That circle is the duct, the teacher says…Well how on earth is that circle any different from the inside of the blood vessel I just looked at?
I left the lab feeling so defeated and confused, yet still feeling like I had a fighting chance by going to both of the four hour open labs tomorrow and the following day before I go to lecture the third day and get assaulted with yet more tissue I will have to recognize. I’d like to have at least a grasp of one before I move on to the next, or else I’ll be set up to drown. I fought back panic today with the knowledge that I still have a chance. If I get through eight hours of looking at those slides and still can’t distinguish them, then sure, I can scream and panic and throw a fit (not really, but you get the idea). But for right now, I held it all together and tried to say calm.
Yet, just so you get the picture, while I’m trying to stay calm, instructors are saying how hard this semester is going to be, but how rewarding. Students, former ones, are returning to the lab and peeking in, telling their friends “Good luck, I was lucky to get my C,” and after they leave, their friend turns to me and says, “They’re right. They are an A student usually. I remember how hard they fought for that C.” “Don’t get behind,” another former student says. A friend from my nursing assistant program finished the class and came back as an assistant and didn’t even say anything. Instead, she just smiled sympathetically, because I think she knew I’d already been assaulted with every vicious war story, well-intended piece of advice, and kind word that could possibly be given, all of it meant to either encourage or bring down. I swear, so far, the battle of this class has been a mental battle. I’ve been trying to hush all of the voices all week and simply hear my own voice telling me, “You are intelligent. You are confident. You are disciplined. You have every chance of getting an A or even a B in this class as the last guy, if not more. Fight for it. You can do this. I believe in you.” Yet all the other voices seem to be drowning out my own.
Until today, I still held it all together. I maintained this fragile broken glass puzzle inside of me made up of mental and emotional fragments and slapped on a smile and said, “You can do this.”
If I were to ever hit my first meltdown point, it would have been tonight, though. I was feeling discouraged for the first time today, after lab, since I couldn’t recognize the tissues. I had a pounding headache, and all afternoon, I tried to formulate a plan as to how I would conquer this problem and others like it that are sure to arise throughout the semester. The answer I kept coming to was time. Time is my ally. Time dedicated to study. Time well-spent. Time in the lab, time in my book, time on the internet taking quizzes and listening to other instructors lecture, time replaying my lectures on my iPod, time doing my flashcards, time coloring in my Anatomy coloring book, time time time.
Just as I resolved that this would be my solution, absolutely every human being of significance in my life began asking for my time. Like a total life joke. “Becca, are you going to workout tonight?” “Becca, I have this paper I’m working on, no pressure, but can I ask you some pretty in-depth questions?” “Becca, big sis, you haven’t been around all week, so can we just talk?” “Becca, can you make me something to eat?” “Becca, can you help me work on this new set of videos I need to have out, because it’s pretty crucial to my income right now.” “Becca, we need you to pick up a shift with a client who personally requested you for the fourth time this week. It’s important. Only four hours one evening. Please, Becca. We’re counting on you.” “Becca, Becca….BECCA” The voices sounded like screams in my head.
Then, that little quiet Becca voice that has been being drowned out by the former Anatomy students, the legends, the instructors, the people asking for my time, it surfaced again, in the background, but very persistent, and said, “Becca, you need time for you. You deserve time for you. You will only function well and do well in this class is if you take that time for you. Don’t go giving your time away. Balance. Balance. Balance. Pick and choose where you give your time. Learn to say no, even to those you care for deeply. You need to take care of yourself too because you’ll be of no value to other people giving your time if you are a basketcase. Take an evening once a week and watch a movie, go for a walk, read a book, take a nap. Take an evening twice a week if you need it or desire it. Plan for those evenings. Plan to recharge, to prepare for the next task ahead.”
So I’m at a total point of just standing here looking at life dumfounded. How are there so many voices talking at once? My only reaction feels like to just look every single one of those voices in the face and just stand silently, not sure how to get them to quiet down. I feel like in this moment, I either tell them to be quiet, every single one of them, or just lie down and close my eyes in defeat on week one.
But I can’t do that. I can’t. I didn’t do that in boot camp. I didn’t do that when I had anorexia. I didn’t do that when various tragedies occurred in my life that demanded me to stand up, grow up, and be the strength when there was no other, and I can’t do that now, not for a measly class (you know, measly was used lightly, being that well, you know, it’s like the crucial deciding factor of whether or not I’ll get into the nursing programs I am competing to get into).
A few tears fell tonight. I feel anxious and frustrated while I write this, but I just can’t give up. I’m gonna take a shower, eat some dinner, study more tissues, skip the workout I’d planned tomorrow morning, review those tissues, and then go take a calm walk to open lab where I will spend the rest of my day looking through microscopes with a determination and a concentration that I wonder if anybody else has ever looked through a microscope with.
And I wonder…will I succeed? Will I fail? How will I respond if tomorrow evening I walk out of that lab still unable to distinguish between the tissues? I don’t know. But this morning, when I woke up, I read a devotional, from the book Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, and she writes how she imagines God’s thoughts might be, and this morning’s devotion said this:
“Come to Me, and rest in My loving Presence. You know that this day will bring difficulties, and you are trying to think your way through those trials. As you anticipate what is ahead of you, you forget that I am with you–now and always. Rehearsing your troubles results in experiencing them many times, whereas you are meant to go through them only when they actually occur. Do not multiply your suffering in this way! Instead, come to Me, relax in My Peace. I will strengthen you and prepare you for this day, transforming your fear into confident trust.”
When I woke up this morning, I scoffed at this devotional. Literally, out loud, laid in my bed after I opened up my curtains and a pleasant soft light filtered through my blinds and landed on my white down comforter that I was buried beneath, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug. “Well,” I thought. “Hopefully this devotional helps somebody who actually is at a breaking point today, because, Anatomy hasn’t brought me there yet.”
That scoffing should have been done at the end of the day, not the beginning. Because now look where I am at.
If I have done what Sarah Young has described, rehearsed my troubles over and over, I’ve probably experienced the worst potential Anatomy semester ten times over before mine has even begun by one week.
All of you voices, SHUT UP. Every single one of you. SHUT.UP.
And to my quiet voice, speak up. Believe in the value of what you have to say to me. I really need to hear it.
As a subject, grade and work load aside, I love Anatomy. I am literally falling in love with it. The human body is such a fascinating, perfectly functioning machine, capable of so much. I laid in my bed quietly for about five minutes this afternoon, extended all of my limbs, and I suddenly became so very aware of my heart beating. I thought about the tissue that makes up my heart, maybe I imagined it, or maybe I really felt it, but I thought I felt the blood literally pumping through my veins, and I envisioned the slides I looked at under the microscopes today of the cells that make up the lumen of those veins. I wiggled my fingers and toes in amazement of the fact that a message that began in my brain could reach my feet so quickly.
I have a feeling that at the end of this semester, I will know the structures I study from absolutely every angle, like a lover might know the body of his beloved, and the relationship I have with the human body would have suddenly become very intimate as I will be enlightened to the details of its inner workings.
“It is the most beautiful thing you will ever see, touch, and experience in life,” my lab instructor tells us, a life and an enthusiasm sparkling in his eyes that cannot be mistaken for anything else but genuine. “You may forget names, but you will never forget what you will experience in these classrooms. You will never forget the joy you feel when you uncover another structure, connect another dot in your mind, and become enamored with the perfect design of the human body that could never have happened by chance.” Which he then, followed up with, “Evolution has no chances,” and I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of that statement.
I think of God as being the designer, not nature creating nature. God, apart from nature, created this perfectly engineered structure that He made. “The Heavens proclaim the glory of God,” the Bible has written upon its pages, but I say, “Every human being declares the glory of God, whether or not he or she spiritually does.” Every time that human heart beats, that person has a thought, or those cells divide, that, that is a proclamation of the glory of God.
I learned about a condition this week in which inside of a baby’s cells, inside of one of many organelles in the cell’s cytoplasm, there is a structure (cells have multiples of these structures) called a lysosome. Inside the lysosome are about 40 enzymes used to breakdown products which in turn, keeps the cell alive (think about what would happen if you couldn’t eliminate your waste. Icky. So cells have to do the same. The enzymes break down those things). If one, out of those 40 enzymes is not present, say, the enzyme for breaking down lipids, eventually, the organism composed of those cells will die. That translates to a child dying at the age of two years old because his or her cells couldn’t break down lipids. One enzyme in one organelle of cells that make up the tissues that make up the organs that make up the organ systems and thus the organism missing….and the whole things falls to pieces.
It is a finely-tuned machine, the human body. It is incredible, and I think I will only be in more awe of it and the God who made it by the end of the semester.
But for right now, I just need to still myself enough to be able to hush the voices telling me, “You can’t,” or “I need whatever is left of you,” and to tell myself, “You can, and you will. Go get em, Becca.”