Author's Chapter Notes:
Warning is for naughty mnemonics.
Sardos stared at Serindë, amazed at the words that had just come out of her mouth. “Could you repeat that?”
She rolled her eyes. “The first letter of each word corresponds to the first letter of each cranial nerve, in order. Olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, auditory, glossopharyngeal, vagus, accessory, hypoglossal. O,O,O,T,T,A,F,A,G,V,A,H.”
“Needles…” he said in plaintive tones.
“And I know you don’t like girls that way, but it’s just a way to remember. Oh, oh, oh, to touch and feel a girl’s vagina. Ah, heaven!”
It wasn’t enough that she’d said it once, she had to repeat it. And yet… Well, he wouldn’t forget that phrase anytime soon, nor the look of naughty glee on Serindë’s face as she said it. It might, might just help him remember enough anatomy to pass his mastery examinations.
“And to remember their function: Some Say Marry Money, But My Brother Says Big Breasts Matter More,” Serindë said. “Sensory, sensory, motor, motor, both, motor, both, sensory, both, both, motor, motor.”
Sardos couldn’t quite believe it, but he found himself scribbling down her memory aids.
She’d naturally passed the damned written portion of the examinations three weeks prior. It wasn’t damned fair. She wouldn’t even be seventeen for another four months, and she’d already passed the written examinations and scheduled her oral examination for the following spring. Sardos had passed the examinations on herb-lore and midwifery and disease processes and treatments, but he was delaying the anatomy examination for as long as he possibly could. He didn’t know why it was that anatomy was so difficult for him, didn’t know why it was that everything seemed to come so damnably easy to her, and it just wasn’t fair.
Well, there had been the one time that he’d seen her distraught after working with one of the masters – she’d been vomiting into a flowerbed after the only time she’d been required to watch one of the surgeons employ craniotomy forceps and perforators for the midwives. Sardos really couldn’t blame her for that, he’d watched it done more than once and it left him with a vague sense of unease every time. Serindë, though – she’d apparently held onto her control only until she saw what the forceps were extracting from the mother, and then clapped one hand to her mouth and ran out of the operative theater.
She’d been teased mercilessly about that, too, the would-be surgeon who flatly refused to learn what some of them considered to be part and parcel of their trade, and if she hadn’t been a favorite of Master Talagan’s, her interest in surgery might well have been ‘overlooked’ by the other surgeons, or she might have been sent home. Master Talagan, though, took it upon himself to show her how to do sections, and she was competent enough at surgically extracting a child from a distressed laboring mother that people overlooked her refusal to use the perforators.
“I just can’t, Fish, it’s just too horrible,” had been the only explanation she’d given him, which had been enough. There were certain parts of their studies that each of them found too horrible to actually do. For some reason, it was amputations for Sardos. Even knowing it was necessary, something about sawing through bone and slicing through muscle reminded him entirely too much of butchering chickens and cattle. And the stench that some of the wounds had, the ones that led to amputations?
He’d rather be a physician than a surgeon any day. Midwifery was flat out of the question, there was entirely too much blood and other disgusting fluids involved. He liked actually caring for patients too much to be content with simply puttering about with herbs. And he hated cutting and sewing other human beings too much to be a surgeon. He’d rather deal with the ill and the insane than with the injured.
“Fish,” Serindë snapped at him, bringing him out of his reverie.
“Olfactory, optic, oculomotor…” Sardos began, and was rewarded by a delighted smile from Serindë when he finished the recitation.
“That was good!” Serindë said.
“Does your brother really say that about breasts?” Sardos asked.
“How in the name of sanity would I know, Fish, I only see him twice a year – and the last thing I’m going to do is ask if he prefers buxom young ladies like Princess Finduilas or flat-chested sticks like me,” Serindë said.
“Princess Finduilas does have nice breasts,” Sardos said.
“Fish!” Serindë said, and giggled. “I thought…”
“Just because I prefer men doesn’t mean I can’t have an artist’s appreciation of a nice pair of breasts,” Sardos said.
Serindë giggled again. “I suppose I never thought of that,” she said, and then she had him repeat the cranial nerves a few more times, just to make certain that the one correct recitation hadn’t been a fluke, and then pointed to the skull on the table in front of them. “The bones?”
“I only remember the frontal and occipital,” Sardos admitted. “And that there’s that odd butterfly-shaped one in deep.”
“You did sit through anatomy lessons, didn’t you?” Serindë said with a laugh.
“The same ones that you did until two years ago, Needles,” Sardos said with a sigh. It wasn’t enough that she had to be smarter than him, she had to point it out. She’d even laughed with him at the stupid jokes and pranks and how was it that she’d managed to absorb so much and he’d retained almost nothing.
“You’re better at diagnostics than I am,” Serindë offered, clearly recognizing that he was annoyed with her.
Sardos snorted. It was a nice try. Her examination score had been marginally lower than his, but he suspected the masters were more particular on marking her papers than they were with his.
“And you’ve got more friends,” she added quietly.
Well, that was certainly true. It wasn’t easy to befriend a girl two or three years your junior who not only outperformed you academically, who not only was the Chief Surgeon’s pet, but who managed to make sure you knew that she was brighter than you were at the drop of a hat. Oh, everyone wanted to study with Serindë before an examination, but once it was over, no one wanted to sit with her and analyze the answers, and no one wanted to hear her say that she was going to ask the masters to deduct marks from her work because she hadn’t gotten an answer completely perfectly right.
“Old People From Tharbad Eat Spiders,” Serindë said quietly. “Occipital, parietal, frontal, temporal, ethmoid, sphenoid. And the ethmoid’s the oddly shaped one.”
“And the sphenoid’s the one that you can pop through the nose and into the brain,” Sardos said. “Although why you’d want to…”
“There’s a woman married to one of my Daddy’s sailors who’s from Umbar. She said down in Far Harad they’ll take out the brains of dead people through the nose,” Serindë offered.
Sardos felt himself blinking and his jaw drop. “That’s never true!” he said.
Serindë nodded. “Never seen it myself, but it’s part of their burial rites, she says.”
“Is that how you learned Haradraic?” Sardos asked.
Serindë shrugged. That was one of the things she didn’t like to spread around too much, but when they’d had a head-injured foreign trader in the Houses who’d forgotten every word of Westron he knew? Well, the Chief Surgeon and the Warden had both been mighty glad for that particular skill.
“She earned a bit of extra money now and then by cooking and doing laundry around our house,” Serindë said. “I was just curious, so she taught me a bit. The skull?”
Sardos wrote down her memory aid again. “Head anatomy’s complicated,” he complained.
“Had you paid more attention to embryology, it might make more sense,” Serindë said, managing again to make him feel stupid. “A lot of the oddities of head and neck anatomy, if you know where those things came from in embryology…”
“I know that, Needles,” Sardos snapped.
“I know you know this better than me, and that’s why I asked for your help, but if you’re going to make me feel like an idiot, then I’ll just…”
Her lower lip was quivering and she was blinking. “I didn’t mean…” she began. “I’m sorry, I’ll…” she stopped mid-sentence, shook her head, and stood up, gathering up her books and papers. “I’ll just…”
Oh, hellfire, I really do need her help, Sardos thought, and stood, blocking her exit from the study. “I didn’t mean to snap, Needles,” he said, snatching her books from her arms.
Sardos spun her around and gave her a gentle push back to her seat, and then walked over and set his notes down in front of her, and then gave her full rein to start sketching branchial clefts and arches and the derivatives of the embryonic aortic arches – and the thing was, as she sketched, and explained, it really did seem to make sense. But on the other hand…
“Needles, I’m grateful, you know that,” Sardos said. “But my examination is next week. I don’t think I’ll possibly remember all of this until then. I just need to learn enough to pass the damned examination between now and then.”
Serindë paused, and set her quill down, and bit her lower lip, looking down at the table.
“This – all of this is elegant, and intricate, and I don’t doubt you find it fascinating. I just want to learn enough to pass the examination, though,” Sardos said.
Serindë nodded. “A diplomatic way of telling me to shut up and give you more memory aids,” she said to the tabletop.
“Well, if I’m going to be Warden someday, I need to be diplomatic,” Sardos said.
Serindë snorted at that, finally looking up to meet his eyes. “You’ll be Warden only after I’m Chief Surgeon,” she said with a laugh, and much as she said that all she wanted was to be a ship’s surgeon? The funny thing was that Sardos could see her in Talagan’s office entirely too easily. Not yet, obviously. Maybe in fifteen years or so.
“Lazy Foreign Tarts Sit Naked In Anticipation Of Sex,” Serindë said, “is the structures that pass through the superior orbital fissure.” She pointed to a hole in what had once been the eye socket. “Lacrimal, frontal, trochlear, superior branch of oculomotor, nasociliary, inferior branch of oculomotor, and abducens nerves – and then the occipital veins and sympathetic nerve branches.”
She was damned prickly and too damned proud of how much she knew, but just now part of Sardos was giving thanks to the Lady of Healing that Serindë had chosen to be his friend. If he spent every free moment between now and the examination with her, he just might pass.
“For the external carotid,” Sardos said, looking at her sketch. “Sirwen Lay Flat As Ondil’s Penis Majestically Stood?”
Serindë looked at him for a moment, murmuring under her breath and looking at the sketch and then began laughing so hard that she fell off of her seat. She picked herself up, wiped her eyes, and with a wicked gleam, asked, “Or perhaps that superior thyroid artery could be ‘Sardos?’”
“Or even ‘Serindë,’” Sardos said, causing her to fall off of her seat again.
Well, perhaps studying with her wasn’t so bad after all.
Sardos stared at Serindë, amazed at the words that had just come out of her mouth. “Could you repeat that?”
Chapter End Notes:
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For the curious - the original of the last mnemonic involves 'Sally' and 'Oscar' and stands for superior thyroid, lingual, facial, ascending pharyngeal, occipital, posterior auricular, maxillary, superficial temporal arteries.
I'm sure that the actual names of these structures would be different in Sindarin and would have different initials. I'm also sure that medical students being medical students, the apprentices at the Houses of Healing would've come up with something similarly naughty as mnemonics to help memorize their anatomy. :)