There are 206 bones in the human body. Technically, I should be able to name all of them. Practically, I have the big ones down: femur, illum, humerus, clavicle. They’re the ones I’ve looked for in myself, lying in bed and feeling for the points of my hips and the know of my elbow, of following the slope of my shoulder into the hollow of my neck. If I could trace these landmarks, then I was still there, the scaffold that I could hang myself on still intact.

It’s the little ones that give me trouble. The metacarpals, the bones of the palm of the hand that I could see sinewy tendons pulling on were easy enough, but the mysterious joints of the wrist – the scaphoid and pisiform and trazeium – I wanted to excavate those from under my skin, to know their shapes. I wanted to feel the thin lines were they fused together and sense the emptiness of those concavities. I wanted to count the roughness of my ribs, tally 9, 10, 11, 12, pair them with the ridges of my spine, navigate that range completely.

Knowing the body like this is half fascination, half denial: the perverse celebration of revelation by shrinking, feeling more by being less. To name my bones, to point to them, I possess them. To jam my fingertips into the crevices of my hips and palpate and know this is the iliac spine, I feel it, you are mine is to be their master. We venerate the complexity of the body by studying it, but we also objectify: with every new organ I must incorporate into my growing vernacular, I shrink it’s meaning, I shrink myself, to fit, to conquer. To hide.

Do I do this to others? In naming their bones or digging under their ribs to feel for their livers or cutting them open to hold their warm guts in my hands am I praising miracles or possessing them, shrinking them, too?


resect (/rəˈsekt/, v.)
to excise a segment of a part

from Latin resectus, “to cut off, cut loose, curtail;” from re- + secare “to cut”

I meet her the morning after her tumor is resected and she receives us lying in bed, thin, bony-shouldered but bright, and says when they told me I had a brain tumor I lay awake all night and walked outside into the morning where it was cool and I swear I could taste little changes in the humidity.

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Out of the Chaos

In medical school we are taught the secrets of life. With our first steps into the anatomy lab, we are christened by the formaldehyde-thick air into an order devoted to unraveling the mysteries of human existence. We learn physiology, biochemistry, neuroscience – how our bodies run and breathe and feel. Under the bright surgical lamps, the mundane acts of living are illuminated to a new depth: walking becomes a complex example of synchronous muscle activation, looking at a painting is a neural exercise in extracting images from light and shadow, and eating a sandwich is enchanted by layers and layers of molecular wizardry that turns our PB&J into us. There is a simultaneous bigness and smallness to this: the humility in the awe of nature, and the powerful thrill of knowing we’ll learn to command it.

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