How I found God in the Dissecting Room
by Felix Obi
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HOW I FOUND GOD IN THE DISSECTING ROOM
With an admixture of excitement and trepidation, I entered the dissecting room. It was my very first time, and the same for my classmates. We clutched our ‘Cunningham’s Manual of Anatomy’ in our trembling hands, which was to become our regular companion throughout the preclinical years at Bayero University Kano.The fear of the unknown had gripped us as we were led into the seeming ‘slaughter room’ where cadavers were lodged and bathed regularly with formalin and other chemicals that preserved the integrity of the cadavers. As the technician opened the door, the strong and pungent smell of chemicals stuffed our airways to the point of choking. Our white overalls, which made us look special before the eyes of non-medical students lost its value in the cadaver’s room as we jocularly called it.
Our genial instructor and mentor, Prof. P.L. Shuklah, an aged Indian man, took his dissecting knife and cut through the cadaver’s tough and scaly skin, lifting up flaps of tissues as he cut deeper and deeper. He chipped through the adipose (fat) tissue until he got to the level of thick tissue (fascia) which covered the muscle mass on the chest. The cadaver was the bodily remains of a middle-aged man with a bulging chest who had died of post-accident injuries and could not be identified by anyone which enabled the university to acquire the unclaimed body from the morgue.
The meticulous professor worked through to reveal the chest muscles; pectoralis major and minor, and traced the tendons from their attachment on the sternal bone to their point of attachment on the head of the bone called humerus. With his bare hands, he traced the course of nerves, ligaments, arteries, veins and capillaries. He made us use our bare hands at some point to feel the texture of the structures and vessels he’d identified for us which we had read in our anatomy manuals. The dissection lasted for over an hour, and at the end, we’d become truly baptized into the world of anatomy and there was no going back.
The dissecting room experience left some students psychologically frazzled and some literarily had nightmares .To many of us, eating meat became so nauseating and the image haunted us afterwards as it appeared as though we were all cannibals and the sight of meat reminded us of the cadaver we’d left behind in the dissecting room. We couldn’t also eat with our bare hands or lick our fingers and the picture of our fingers which gripped the parts of the cadaver just stuck, and it was as though the smell of formalin trailed and hounded us to our respective rooms. Call the experience emotionally harrowing, and you won’t be too far from the truth!
Interestingly though, the cadaver-phobia was stayed just for few weeks until such a time that the cadaver became more like a ‘friend and teacher’ and we became more conversant with the structure of the human body. As we traversed and explored the cadaver’s body regions, we discovered more about the magnificence of the human body till such a point that I wrote an ode to the cadaver which I shared with some of my classmates. And many thought I must be crazy to call the cadaver my ‘friend’.
As we had more lectures in anatomy; and as I buried myself in the pages of Gray’s Anatomy textbook and other reference books in anatomy, I came to the point of amazement and wonder. My fascination knew no bounds as I began to ask myself questions like, ‘How could the body be so arranged in such perfect order and alignment? How arteries, veins and nerves could be wrapped-up in one band as they coursed through the length and breadth of the body? Why are there triangles and quadrangles and other geometrically shaped structures in the body? I asked more puzzled questions as the cadaver’s body exposed more about myself to me…but at the expense of another person who once lived, and unaware of what I and my peers were doing with his bodily remains. At the end of the academic session, we had ripped through and dismembered the entire body to see the internal organs, such that the muscles had become more like sequestered strands of flesh.
I literarily had a transcendent experience when we delved into neuro-anatomy and neurophysiology during which we studied the structure and functions of most complex organ in the human body - the brain. Neuro-anatomy lectures were basically seen as being too abstract and many found them too difficult and boring. But for me, the fascination heightened with each lecture. And with all that we had known, it was evident that neuroscientists had barely scratched the surface of the brain as many of its functions are still vague and mysterious to the brightest of minds.
The study of anatomy had come at a time that I was at cross-roads in my life as a 20 years old guy in the campus. It was a period in my life when I had reasons to questions whatever faith, dogma and Christian heritage that had been part of me since childhood. Freedom beckoned and my intellect had received a major stimulus as I had become interested in the theory of evolution and the Freudian concepts of psychology. In my search, I read books that bothered on the esoteric, metaphysics, transcendental meditation, hypnosis, power of the mind and much more, which left me all the more confused. I once boasted to one of my lecturers, a born again Christian lady that ‘I am a student of the mind’, but she quipped, ‘Why not a student of the Spirit?”
Having been drawn to the theories of evolution and the concept of humanism, I began to doubt the existence of God and believed more in the Big Bang Theory. The Bible to me was a collection of fables and Jewish mythology for I had read books that made light of the reality of the Christian message. While I grappled with the internal struggles, the reality of the lessons I learned in the dissecting room and the numerous lectures I had in anatomy made me believe there must be a God somewhere. And no sooner, I came to a point where I cast away my doubts about the existence of God, and life hereafter. The theory of endless cycles and reincarnations that I read in mystical books of Mind Religions just weren’t convincing enough. The evidence presented by the cadaver inundated my psyche that the revelation dawned on my reasoning faculty to such a point that I capitulated without anyone convincing me that God is truly a reality and not necessarily the figment of man’s imaginations. I came to a point of knowing that God truly existed and not just a mere mental accent and I have had no plausible reason to doubt till today.
Such personal revelation of God is crucial in this post-modern age when secularism and atheism have become institutionalized as a kind of ‘faith and belief system’. To many people across the globe, God has become a mere phantom phenomenon. In the April 8th 1966 edition of Time Magazine, the headline screamed “Is God Dead?’ as a response to Nietzsche’s thesis where he announced the “obituary of God”, and some theologians went ahead to contemplate a theology without Theos, without God. Even before Nietzsche, SOren Kierkegaard had warned that ‘the day when Christianity and the world become friends, Christianity is done away with. ” And during World War Ii, the anti-Nazi Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote prophetically to a friend from his Berlin prison cell: “We are proceeding toward a time of no religion at all.”
The knowledge of God has become so trivialized in post-modern age that our culture and worldview have progressively deleted God’s influence and we are grappling with the attendant chaos. The seeds of secularism are being watered all the more in this age, and confusion reigns in the psyche of multitudes who profess to believe in God. For most Europeans, a belief in God may have given way to a belief in democracy, law and human rights which originally were based on Judeo-Christian foundations rather than on secular freedoms. One of the most influential of modern proponents of atheism is Oxford Professor and the celebrated evolutionary biologist and author, Dr Richard Hawkins whose book “The God Delusion’ gives an entertaining treatise on atheism while condemning belief in God as irrational, wrong and pernicious. In a sense, belief in God is now considered by many as being both outdated and dangerous. But where has this ‘belief’ left us?
We may not all have the privilege of having access to St. Thomas Aquinas’ theological treatise “ Summa Theologiae” where he proved God’s existence in five ways. But we can make do with the first proof: That certain things in the world are seen to be in a state of motion or change. But something cannot be changed or moved except by another, and yet there cannot be an infinite series of movers. Therefore, there must be a first, or prime mover that is not moved or changed by anything else - and this is GOD!
Without a belief in God in this 21st century, many would find life to be shallow, purposeless, and empty as many have found that the acquisition of material things, titles, and degrees will not meet that inner void in everyman/woman’s soul. Without the proper knowledge of, and reverence of God by humanity, the value and respect for life would be lost and society would be headed for anarchy and disintegration. Many might question this, but the world has not been any better since governments and societies across the world have jettisoned Godly principles. We may not see God, but His influence can not be taken for granted if we must live peacefully on earth!
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