25. The Right, the Left, they are both right.


At the beginning of an anatomy lab, the instructor divides students into groups. Each group consists of a cadaver and five to ten students. Number of students per group varies because the number of cadaver donated differs from school to school and from year to year. Each group must dissect the arranged cadaver from the start to the end.

In each group, students assign roles by themselves. If the group is large, students draw straws and divide themselves into two subgroups. One subgroup dissects the left side of the cadaver, and another subgroup dissects the right side of the cadaver.

The human body is symmetric and two subgroups dissect the same anatomical structures, and thus it is fair for both groups. However, my students wish to be assigned on the right side of the cadaver.


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The reason why they want to be on the right is because I draw the right side of the cadaver when I teach them. Drawing both sides back and forth causes confusion, so I stick with the right side. But why the right side? Is it because I'm a right-winged conservative? Do left-winged anatomy instructors draw the left side? Nope, the words conservative and progressive mean nothing to anatomy instructors.

The first reason why I draw the right side is because hospitals have a custom of looking at the right side of the patient first. When we read a book, we read from left to right. In hospital, a doctor and a patient sit face to face. The left side of the doctor is the right side of the patient and naturally, the doctor looks from his left (the patient's right) to his right (the patient's left).


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The second reason is the tradition of the East and the West to admire the right side of things. We use our right hand for a hand-shake as seen during a memorial ceremony. This tradition seems to be owing to the right-hand dominance in this world. The left-handers have no choice but to follow the tradition. This tradition also prevails in words. In English, the word right means the right side as well as correct. I have a feeling that this is not a coincidence. Again, the left-handed people have no choice but to comply with this tradition. Anyhow, because of this tradition, I feel comfortable drawing the right side of cadaver.


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Students assigned to the left side soon begin to complain. "Drawings from class are of the right side of cadaver, but I need to dissect the left side. This causes confusion." They even think "let's reflect either our drawings or a cadaver on a mirror. Then, it won't be confusing." I have to admit that I exaggerated the confusion caused by students on the left side of cadaver. In reality, medical school students easily overcome the confusion. If they don't, how would they treat the left side of patients later on as doctors?


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The right and the left subgroups must do dissections differently. This way, they can look at as many anatomical structures as they can. For example, dissect the hip joint & knee joint of the left leg, and don't dissect the joints of the right leg so that the students can see the muscles around the joints. However, neither the right subgroup nor the left subgroup wants to dissect the joints. This is because dissecting a joint is time consuming. Then which side should dissect the joints? The job goes to the side that was less successful with dissecting the muscles around the joints. Let's say the left subgroup dissected the muscles well. It would be a shame to destroy the muscles. Therefore, the right subgroup would be assigned to dissect the joints. The left subgroup who dissected the muscles better deserves to rest.

In this way, the two subgroups compete with each other and comply with the results. They understand the fact that the two subgroups are different. There are no juvenile disputes between the subgroups. Both groups are correct in different ways.