Today, I operated on a rat.

Physiology labs at the beginning of the semester started off on the boring side of interesting because many of them were conducted with computer simulation software (we had SimNeuron, SimMuscle, … you get the gist) that generated the data for us. Some time in the last few weeks, though, the labs have gotten interactive and fun! It started off when we measured the effects of certain vasodilators and vasoconstrictors on a biopsied rat aorta. We’ve also done ECGs one one another, taken blood pressure in various physical states, and listened to heart sounds to complement our cardiovascular unit. Today’s lab was probably the pinnacle of the semester: each lab group operated on a live, anesthetized rat to study the effect of vagus stimulation! Even our professor had been looking forward to it for a while. At the last class, he reminded us enthusiastically that it was “VAGUS, BABY!” coming up 🙂

Lest the word “operate” gives the wrong impression I will preface by saying that each rat was sacrificed after the experiment with a high dose of KCl injected into the heart, while still under anesthesia. I think and hope it did not suffer at all.


Our standard white lab rat came to us fully sedated by the lab technician. We picked it up and laid it out on a glass stretcher. The first task was to cut open the chest and find the trachea for intubation. Strictly speaking, this was not necessary for the vagus investigation, but it was a good experience for us to have. This required “atraumatically” tearing through some layers of muscle and making a “T”-shaped incision in the trachea through which a cannula was inserted, all of which Rina did expertly!

Then, we located the carotid artery, which is relatively large and easy to identify because of its pulsation. The vagus nerve, in contrast, is a minuscule strip on the underside of the artery. Priyanka and a Hungarian student joining us for the day separated the nerve, and placed an electrical insulator under it. For the next part of the experiment, we inserted subcutaneous ECG leads, placed an electrode on the nerve, and measured the heart rate. (Because of the nerve’ parasympathetic function, stimulation of the nerve led to a reduction in heart rate. Administering atropine, a parasympathetic antagonist, reversed the effect.)

Afterwards, the official experiment was over, but we dissected the rest of the rat to see its internal organs, all so similar to humans’ viscera. The set-up looked something like by then: this [warning! not for the squeamish]. We also cut into the head and removed the brain. Although some found this extra dissection a bit gruesome, I felt better knowing that we got the most out of the sacrificed life.

Initially, I was actually bit skeptical that the lab experiment was worth the life. Couldn’t this be one of the simulated ones? In retrospect, though, it was about more than the physiology of the vagus nerve. It was the first time I had ever cut into something living, and also the first time I killed a mammal (not that I kill other classes of animals on the regular or anything, but I have no mercy when it comes to bugs!). It’s a different facet of medicine from all the theory stuffed into our heads these years, and one necessitating a prepared emotional response. This was “just a lab rat”, but soon, it won’t be!

Today, I share Megan’s photos!

Megan captured some beautiful photos of Budapest and our non-costumed Halloween weekend together in her latest blog post. 🙂 I was WOWed — the riverbanks have never looked more lovely.

Gotta run, anatomy midterm tomorrow. Second year continues to be a nonstop funfest.

Today, I learned how to stop hiccups.

We had an anatomy lecture on the vagus, accessory, and hypoglossal nerves today (CN X, XI, XII). One of the only things that I remember from it is this trick to stop hiccups:

Press down very hard right behind your ears.

Hiccups can be cured by stimulating the vagus nerve, and there is a branch of it that runs behind there. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of information on vagal hiccup remedies.  Let me know if this particular one works for you!


Open Mind, Open Window

“When I was 19, I was a completely different person than I am now! I wanted to be a radiologist.”
– Surgeon on Grey’s Anatomy

I entered medical school with a directed idea of what patient group and illnesses I hope to work with, but I’ve always told myself to be receptive to the breadth of possibilities. Today, we had our Introduction to Clinical Medicine class in Neurology, and I was reminded to keep on exploring other branches! The neurologist who led the class brought in two patients and presented their symptoms, allowing a few students to perform parts of the neurological exam as well. What we’re learning is slowly coming together: the first patient had Parkison’s Disease, and we discussed dopamine synthesis (last semester’s biochem), muscle tone (last week’s physiology), and motor pathways (what we’re currently studying in anatomy). It’s a lot to integrate, but that’s what also makes it exciting.

Sometimes, glimpses of nature fill me with wonder. This flash of foliage outside did just that.

Flash of foliage by the main entrance of the Neurology clinic.

Today, I’m suited up!


Friday again, and the days are blending into one another this semester as an endless cycle of study, sleep, eat, class … in fact, the main difference is where we have our Introduction to Clinical Medicine session each week (last time was in the Pediatrics clinic). This Wednesday, we suited up for (watching) surgery!

Sophie and I after putting on our colorful gowns.

Sophie and I after putting on the colorful gowns.

I didn’t go into the OR because I wouldn’t have been able to see anything from my vantage point, but I did get a lot out of our tour in the ICU. The physician gave us a history of each patient there, e.g. their pre- and post-operative statuses and difficulties encountered in their treatment. One notable procedure mentioned was the gastric pull up esophagectomy, in which the stomach replaces the esophagus.

Other than that, I feel as though I’m at the base of a mountain of reading. Off  I go to start my climb.

Happy weekend, y’all 🙂

Peds snapshot

After our double whammy this week of Anatomy midterm and Physiology quiz, today is a day to slow down and catch up!

Yesterday, between the exams, we had our Introduction to Clinical Medicine class in the Pediatrics clinic. The doctors we met there were so enthusiastic and had a short but interesting list of patients and points to show us.

One patient has a rare developmental respiratory disease called Ondine’s curse, or, less interestingly, congenital central hypoventilation syndrome. I was also interested to hear about therapeutic hypothermia, in which a patient’s core temperature is lowered to 34°C as a neuroprotective measure.

Spotted: Outside the Pediatrics Department yesterday, a picturesque Fall scene

Spotted: Outside the Pediatrics Department yesterday, a picturesque Fall scene

Today, I Remember September

Arkie summed up the state of things well in her last post when she said that life is happening, and it’s all-consuming. September was a stressful month, mostly because school has been a barrage of things to memorize. I’m starting to feel like less of a crazed worrier and more like myself now that there’s a routine and I know what to expect from the classes.

I saw this graffiti over the summer, and it's still humorously resonating with me.

I saw this graffiti over the summer, and it’s still humorously resonating with me.

Poster child for healthy living ... Rina and I shared some potato chips, cookies, and caffeine drinks (sugar free!) while reviewing before class.

Poster child for healthy living …
Rina and I shared some potato chips, cookies, and caffeine drinks (sugar free!) while reviewing before class.

The Basic Science Building is a bright place to study if there's a free table and not too many around.

The Basic Science Building is a nice, bright place to study if there’s a free table and not too many people around.














The autumnal chill is in the air, and I can’t say I share Jarkie’s enthusiasm for the season (summer ftw!), but I will concede that it’s nice to bundle up at home with a warm beverage and books.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
-L.M. Montgomery

(Any other Anne of Green Gables fans among you? Top 5 childhood classic right there!)