Homaira’s Note: The majority of this piece was written on Tuesday afternoon (November 11th) from the obscure depths of the Penn State Hershey Health Sciences Library. Our class had an exam this morning.
To be taken with a cauldron of salt
The new 24/7 medical student lounge reminded Harry of another place he had known during his stay at Hogwarts School of Pre-Medicine. The blinds on the windows were shut tight, so as to protect innocent passersby from the discomfiting sight. The room was saturated with the unique scents of procedures gone wrong, in addition to the rumble of frantic students flipping through grease-stained manuals lying over puddles of clear, putrid fluid on the metal tables. Harry and his classmates now spent all of their waking hours on the third floor, only steps away from a panoramic view of the rural autumn landscape, but they might as well have been working in the dungeons of Professor Snape’s Potions classroom.
After two weeks of sensory conditioning, the sharp odor of formaldehyde no longer bothered Harry; the place only smelled of a bowl of soup that had gone sour after a couple of months on the countertop. When no one was listening, however, Harry liked to call this classroom “The Voldemort Lab.” Halloween had come and gone, and yet there were still severed skins in the cremation buckets and halves of skulls on the dissection tables. Perhaps more bizarre was the fact he had just spent the past ten hours sitting next to a corpse, and still felt an urgent craving for soup – warm, edible, hot-and-sour soup, albeit without the chicken.
Peering into his anatomy atlas, Harry deduced that he was the most clueless student in the entire first-year class. He turned to consult his lab partners, but was unduly interrupted.
“What in the name of shiitake mushrooms is that?” asked Ron, pointing at an indecipherable network of red, yellow, white, and pink fibers lying inside the cadaver’s wrist. It might as well have been a map of all the streets, sidewalks, and hiking trails in the world, condensed into the area of a wristwatch.
“Flexor digitorum profundus, lying deep to flexor digitorum superficialis,” said Hermione.
“Bless you,” said Ron.
“It’s Latin!” said Hermione, looking aghast. “It’s possibly the simplest structure to identify in the deep layer of the flexor compartment of the forearm! The tendons run all the way down from the wrist to the distal phalanges of the fingers. The medial half is innervated by the ulnar nerve, while the lateral half is innervated by the median nerve. That’s partially why the thumb, index finger, and middle finger lose function in the event of carpal tunnel syndrome, which primarily affects the median nerve.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” said Ron. With his glove, he brushed aside a globule of fat from the top of the cadaver’s arm. It landed on his own mint-green scrub trousers, and stuck there like a leftover bit of Mrs. Weasley’s egg pudding. Harry resolved never to eat pudding again.
Ron seemed not to have noticed. Pointing at the cadaver’s arm, he continued, “This is all we need to know, in my humble opinion. After all, it’s humerus.” He paused as his eyes fell upon Harry’s nauseated expression. “What’s wrong, Harry?”
Harry swallowed, purged his mind of all food-related memories, and pointed at his atlas. “I don’t think I have enough space in my cerebrum for all of these names.”
“Relax, Harry.” Ron leaned against the dissection table, smearing cadaver grease from his glove onto the communal dissection manual. “I would say you know enough about the leg – “
“I’m worried about the foot,” Harry said quietly. He flipped through another five pages of paintings showing countless layers of foot musculature and vasculature, then slammed the atlas shut with a thud that caused Hermione to jump from her stool with her scalpel still in hand. “Although the leg isn’t trivial, either.”
“No, but it is tibial,” Ron said.
Harry decided to direct his question specifically to Hermione.
“Hermione, I can’t find the great saphenous vein – which side of the leg is it on?”
Without a moment of thought, Hermione rose from her seat, extracted a dark red vessel from the skin of the cadaver’s medial ankle, and held it up for Harry to press in between his fingertips.
In response, Ron remarked, “Sometimes I think that all my merrymaking is in vein.”
Hermione glanced askance at Ron’s expectant grin, sighed, and returned to scraping off the fatty tissue from what she called the “median nerve.”
Harry, on the other hand, went back to staring at his diagrams of the foot and the hand. He knew that if he got “flexor digitorum longus,” “flexor digitorum brevis,” “flexor digitorum profundus,” and “flexor digitorum superficialis” mixed up on the practical exam, he would be toast. Who knew how his discombobulated wand would backfire this time?
Afternote: This short story was inspired by a single social exchange from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For the original scene, see this link.