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Bonding over Body Parts

October 10, 2016

Left to Right: Madeline Amberge, Jenny Nguyen, Adam Kornmehl, Sam Hodge, Michael Rockman, Zach Boynton, Sasha “Jing” Jia

The medical students were examining the reproductive organs of their cadaver when Sam Hodge told them a story.

A woman had wanted a hysterectomy, was nervous about the surgery, so the doctor videoed it. As the patient watched later, she saw the surgeon had burned the emblem of his favorite sport’s team into her uterus.

Was the doctor, Sam asked the students, guilty of battery?

Yes, the students agreed.

Sam Hodge, 66, happens to be a legal studies professor at Temple for 40 years who has taught Anatomy for Litigators and Forensic Medicine and Law.

He had a sabbatical this fall so he offered to help teach anatomy to first year medical students. “The idea was to circulate around in the dissection lab because I’d been in there so many times,” he said. “That lasted one day. The first day of class I realized how much I really didn’t know.”

He bonded with one table of six students. As they learned the 27 bones of the hand or the 12 cranial nerves or the reproductive organs, he posed questions like the one about the uterus.

The answer was not liable! The surgeon had to mark the uterus before removing it, Sam explained, and he happened to be a huge Kentucky basketball fan, so he carved a UK.

“Sam is the man,” said Adam Kornmehl, one of the six students. “Professors will tell us clinical aspects, but he tells us the real life stories.”

Every day, they huddled around their stainless steel dissecting table, Sam in a white lab coat and the students in their blue scrubs.

They looked him up, realized he’d written six medical books and lectured all over the country. They tried to call him Mr. Hodge.

Sam, he insisted.

And every day, he seemed to add something wonderful.

For instance, when they learned the anatomy of the throat, Sam pointed to the hyoid, a floating bone in the neck. “Many times there is no visible sign that a person has been strangled,” Sam told them. “However, the hyoid bone is fractured in one third of homicides by strangulation.”

When a pillow is used to suffocate someone, Sam added, the result is often red marks on the face, called petechiae.

When you spend all your waking hours trying to identify and memorize things like the torus tubarius and the salpingopharyngeal fold that extends from it, learning about what medical examiners look for in murder cases adds a little spice.

“Sam is the best,” said Madeline Amberge, another student.

Since students were the ones being tested, they did most of the actual dissection. But Sam was always hands on.

When they were sawing through the pelvis, separating one leg from the body, Sam helped cut through the bones and soft tissues.

“In order to dissect the eye,” added Zach Boynton, another student, “you have to break through the bone that sits on top of your eye. We did one and asked Sam if he wanted to help.”

Sam, as the students had done, sawed through the top of the skull.

“Zach and I both noticed he was a little aggressive,” recalled student Michael Rockman, flashing a smile.

“He completely loved it,” said Zach.

Sam loved everything about the class, the nuances and intricacies of the human anatomy, and the friendships he formed with the medical students.

“I am really going to miss this group,” said Sam. “They have let me into their inner circle. It has made me feel like I am in medical school with them.”

The students felt the same way.

“We won’t be sad anatomy’s over,” said Jenny Nguyen, another student, “but we will miss Sam.”

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Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.