Human anatomy I’ve always found to be a strikingly tender science. Certainly, I always loved the dryness of the carbon chains and the satisfaction of growing new strains of bacterium, but seeing the human body and lovingly learning all of the nooks and crannies, all of the ways that we are all the same underneath, that is beautiful.
I always heard civilians shudder when I explained that I would be assisting with a dissection.
“Gross,” they would say. “I could NEVER do something like that.”
When pressed, I never got anything more specific from them, which meant that they’d never seen one, because the body, well, the human body is not gross. It is resplendent. It is powerful. It is amazing. It is beautiful.
All of the organ systems functioning in synchronicity so that we are able to walk upright, speak, form words, paint beautiful pictures, draw pictures with our written words, love, that is not gross. And that is what human anatomy is.
Inside, we are even more beautiful than out.
Rarely, however, do the names of the parts of the body reflect their beauty.
Often, they’re named after the anatomist who found them because scientists are about as self-serving and obnoxious as bloggers. The Islets of Langerhans, for example may bring to mind a nice set of islands found off the coast of Ireland, but no, they’re actually endocrine-producing cells of the pancreas.
Even the very word pancreas sounds more like something you’d find dead on the side of the road than something that creates the body’s most important enzymes. But to say it aloud sounds dirty, something you spit out of your mouth, a splat, an inelegant word for a very elegant organ.
The day we learned of the heart, I came across the words chordae tendineae, and I stopped for a moment. Latin words make me happy, which is probably, in part, why I am so attracted to virology. Continuing on, I read what this curious, elegant term meant.
The chordae tendineae are tendinous cords of dense tissue that connect the two atrioventricular valves to their papillary muscles in the hearts ventricles.
The chordae tendineae are the heart strings.
That is probably the most graceful and magnificent term I have ever heard and the best representation of why I find human anatomy so intoxicatingly lovely. We human beings actually have heart strings.
Whenever I am sad, I think of those tiny strings, which I have seen with my own eyes, felt with my fingers, those strings of fibrous tissue, so very much stronger than they look, and I am comforted by the heart strings that bind us all.
On my refrigerator hangs a report from Early Intervention with my daughter’s name on it. It is a discharge sheet that states that she is at or above level for everything. It was true then. It is not true any longer. I cannot bear to take it down, because to take it down would be to admit defeat.
I will not be defeated. My daughter will not be defeated.
When I called my case worker, she sounded so sad to hear from me, her voice mirroring my own. It didn’t help that the only sheet of paper I could find with the phone number on it was her discharge from the program with a jaunty, “We enjoyed working with your family!” on it.
The therapist will come several days after my 30th birthday to evaluate my daughter and to tell me what I already know: Amelia is not normal. Amelia needs help. I am a trained diagnostician and I am aware of both of these facts. I am also aware that I am doing the right things. But knowing this doesn’t make this any easier for me.
There is something between her brilliantly big brain and delicate rosebud mouth that isn’t connecting properly. It fills me with a well of sorrow I didn’t even know I had, because I want so badly to hear her words. All of her words. Stories of Saturn and the planetarium and pleas for cookies and candy and the injustice of it all when I deny her.
I want to know my daughter.
Instead, I kiss her head and rub her scar and apologize to her for what is certain to be a hard road ahead. My heart strings clench painfully and I cry bitter tears, wishing I could make it easy for her, knowing I can’t.
We’re gearing up for a battle over here and we’ll win.
Eventually. Some way, somehow, we’ll win.