But I needn't have been. The most beloved professor of anatomy at my school, Matthew Pravetz, made sure to teach us from the start that we could not approach our cadaver, our "first patient," as he reminded us, without deep reverence in our attitude, demeanor, behavior, and indeed in our hearts. Dr. Pravetz, also a Franciscan priest, brought the gifts of his spirituality into his work, and ours, without imposing any kind of religiosity on us. Every time he gave a lecture or demonstration, you could see his sense of wonder at the way every sinew and vessel in the body had developed; his love of the human body and faith in its sacredness permeated the course and set us off on the right foot toward becoming true physicians. That's a good teacher for you.
The following year, when it was our turn to help the new first-year students take that first step into the anatomy lab, I was stunned to find myself breaking out of my usual timidity and lack of self-confidence, carried away by my own excitement about anatomy and growing love of medicine. I remember trying to pass on some of what I'd learned, touching a cadaver's thorax and explaining what its "barrel chest" might have signified about lung disease in life, laying their hands on the chest so they could feel for themselves and no longer be afraid, as I had been. The medical school chaplain was there, standing by just to support us all, and later he took me aside and said, "Good teaching in there."
I can still see my cadaver clearly in my mind, down to the graceful loop made by her recurrent laryngeal nerve after we dissected it free from the other tissues in her neck. Some of my other fond memories of the anatomy lab are spottier, though I remember my three wonderful lab partners vividly. I remember a guy once had an itch on his nose but his gloved hands had just been handling the cadaver, so in desperation (and apologetically) he rubbed the tip of his nose on the shoulder of my scrub shirt as I walked by. I remember being alone late at night with my cadaver studying for an anatomy exam and being startled when a light turned on at the opposite end of the lab, followed to my great relief by a friendly classmate's voice saying, "It's just me!" I remember having no child care for one of my anatomy oral exams and handing of my then-one-year-old daughter to the group ahead of us as they came out of their oral so I could go in with my lab partners and take mine.
It was so great to come out of that exam and find my little girl waiting in the lobby with my kind-hearted classmates. A new, fresh little life, bright and sunny, just beginning her journey.
I started thinking about the ubiquity of decay today because of mushrooms. We spent the afternoon at the Adirondacks' natural history museum, The Wild Center, a small but beautiful museum in Tupper Lake, NY. Despite the fact that I have almost completely shed the "doctor" part of my identity during this vacation, I was happy to see this defibrillator situated halfway through one of their nature trails:
You'd think the highlight for me would have been the adorable river otters, or the natural history hands-on cabinet, or the live kestrel presentation, but no, the highlight for me was...the mushroom exhibit. I didn't know there were 1.5 million species of fungus in the world (compared to 4,630 mammals). I had no idea that oyster mushrooms are predatory. But I did know that morels are DELICIOUS as well as mysterious.
Speaking of morels, I have to give vent to the foodie in me and rave about the dinner we had last night at our amazing hotel. My husband and I have been trying for weeks to celebrate our anniversary with a nice dinner, and last night we had our chance: the Narnia movie was showing in the hotel's small movie theater, and our kids were more than happy to be dropped off while we had our romantic dinner for two. We were done with it in time to see the last battle scene with them - perfect!
I had some delectable morel risotto with a perfectly prepared halibut garnished with a frizzled wild leek and some small carrots, paired with a delicious Sheldrake sauvignon blanc. My husband had lamb. For dessert I had a strawberry "shortcake" assembled from candied ginger scones, whipped cream, and strawberries with sorbet and a dark-and-white chocolate stick on the side. YUM.
Yesterday the New York Times featured a story about a chef , Rebecca Charles, who was fighting for her recipes and restaurant design to be recognized as her intellectual property. I don't know much about the case, but I do think it's time for creativity with food to have its due. Creativity and composition balance out ever-present decomposition and the relentless law of entropy, and the necessity for all life to fall into the cycle of decay and renewal.
In a couple of billion years our sun will explode and take all of our achievements with it - human language, writing, architectural treasures like Chartres cathedral and the great bridges of the world, chemical engineering, great musical works, art, painting, inventions, medical technology, spiritual insights, movies and shows, all lessons and artifacts, not to mention relationships and unique individuals...unless we find a way not to lose these by then. For now, our creativity is what we have as evidence of our vitality and witness to our preciousness. Creativity in the kitchen included!
This recipe for Morel Risotto is courtesy of Phillip J. Speciale and quoted from www.thegreatmorel.com/recipes.html:
1 cup of small dried morel mushrooms, reconstituted and cut in quarters
1 medium sized yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 Tbls of butter
6 cups of chicken stock
1/2 cup of Marsala wine
2 and 1/2 cups of arborio rice
1/2 cups of freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
Pour broth in a medium size saucepan and heat to a simmer. In a slightly larger saucepan add the butter and sauté the garlic and onions for about 1 minute. Add rice and mix well coating the rice with the butter. Stir in the wine until it has evaporated. Stir in mushrooms. Add broth 2 cup at a time and stir until broth has been absorbed. Repeat until all the broth is used. When rice is tender mix in parmesan cheese.