“Get inside the patient’s head.” Ok, so I’m really not in your head. But today is Radiology day with my Human Health and Disease class, and we’re looking at traditional X-rays (yeah, like the ones from the dentist), CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds.

“But Snigdha,” you might ask,”they’re just pictures of people.” Yeah, just pictures? If the Biology, Chemistry and Physics departments at SMU decided they wanted to have a common course, it would be about radiology (I’m sure there would be a lot more, but a good chunk would be about radiology. I’m sure the Math Department would want to get in on this too).

The images are fantastic, and as we scroll through the consecutive scans, it’s almost as if we are floating right down the axis of a person and looking inside. This might be what ghosts of medical students see on their late-night haunts.

Awkward humor aside, we not only learned the theory behind imaging, but also got to look at ultrasounds, MRIs and CT scans. It was definitely eye-opening to point out organs from different angles (lungs from the side are fun!) and to see the differences between healthy and unhealthy tissue.

The best part though, was reasoning through all the “blobs.” “What’s this mass here? Why is there a straight line? What makes a straight line here in the lung?” (The answer, in case you are wondering, was fluid.) Dr. Norregard patiently guides us through each scan, and we all take turns with the laser pointer to try to figure out tumors and fluid levels. It’s something we also do in our Complexities of Cancer class.

Each class we get two case studies and after discussing basic exam procedures, we get to look at a sample X-ray and our teachers ask us questions about what we see. Metastasis? Malignant or benign? But the most important question is, “Why? Why do you think that?”

It’s also worth noting that in Denmark, all patient records are on the computer. There is a paperless system that they use here, and whenever a doctor needs to look at a patient’s records, they just type in the patient’s CPR number (kind of like the Social Security number), and all the information regarding hospital visits, exams, test results, and medication is present. It cuts down on errors, and it’s just more streamlined and efficient. Another health care reform idea?

Moving on from human bones to animal bones … when people think backstage pass, they think an amazing concert with their favorite band. Our Biology of Marine Mammals class got a backstage pass … to the Zoolgisk Museum in Copenhagen. You’re all probably thinking, oh they just got a special tour of the Danish version of the Smithsonian.

CIMG0205.jpg We got to go into the storage rooms in the museum and look at all the skeletal, stuffed and preserved models. Our tour guide, Mones, who specialized in reptiles, regaled us with stories of catching snakes (he once had to take the insides out of a viper because they were afraid of being over the airline’s baggage weight limit) and of preserving them for the museum’s collections (around 10 million in the total collection, some of which date back to the 1600s).

CIMG0211-1.jpg But the point of the field study was to look at the marine mammal skeletons: the whales (Narwhals with two tusks? River dolphins? Sperm whale skulls? Baby whales?… You betcha!), the seals and walruses, polar bears and manatees. We even got to see skeletons of a blue whale and a sperm whale, and they were massive! Just the sheer size of the skulls was impressive. All in all, a day well spent!

In photos: a blue whale skull (above left) and a bowhead whale (right).