“It’s not brain surgery.” How many times have I either heard or uttered that expression when trying to explain to someone how to do something simple? I probably utter it mostly to myself usually when I’m trying in vain to figure out something on the computer that’s obvious to everyone but me. Not that I’m an expert on brain surgery, mind you. The closest I ever got to doing brain surgery was in my neuroanatomy class in my freshman year of veterinary school. It was also the closest I ever came to dropping out of school.

Our neuroanatomy class was taught by a horrible professor who couldn’t speak English. Not only was he ridiculously demanding in requiring us to know every bump and groove inside and out on the brain and what it did, but we couldn’t understand a single word he said. I remember one lecture in which he kept talking about cap IL aries, and none of us knew what he was referring to. Then the lightbulb came on for my best friend, who blurted out loud, “Oh! CAPillaries!” His class was so bad that by the end of the term, only about a third of the class bothered to show up for his lectures. Not attending lectures was essentially unheard of in veterinary school. The professor’s own teaching assistant got a 20 out of 100 on his practical exam. Our sympathetic clinical neurology professor insisted on having her questions count for half of our exam grade because she knew he was so unreasonable. She told us, “You guys know my questions will be easy.”

I distinctly remember going home from school one Friday afternoon, looking at the hundreds of lousy printed handouts of impossible-to-memorize structures and functions of the brain that I didn’t understand, and saying, “That’s it! I’ll never understand this! I quit!” I could drive home to Cincinnati and be there in time for dinner. The idea of quitting sounded so tempting. After all, why did I have to know all this stuff to give rabies vaccinations? If the vaccines worked, I wouldn’t have to deal with patients whose brains were infected with rabies virus. It wasn’t fair. There was no reason to put us students through such torture. Besides, I’d never seen any of the vets whom I’d worked with performing brain surgery. But after a good pity party, I decided to dig in my heels and gut it out. There were people in the sophomore veterinary class who had obviously survived this course, and I knew I had to be at least as smart as some of them!

As part of our curriculum, we had to dissect a sheep brain, which is my one and only experience with “brain surgery.” To say we didn’t have a clue what we were doing would be an understatement. As I recall, there were no pictures or guidelines to follow, just a list of structures we were supposed to be identifying. No one in the lab knew how to proceed, and the professor sat tucked away in his office down the hall not being any help. Finally, two students took their brain (sheep brain, that is) into the professor’s office and asked for help. In thirty seconds, he completely dissected the structure for them. When they came back to report what had transpired, my lab partner and I immediately rushed our brain (sheep brain, that is) into his office and tried the same thing. Alas, he did not do likewise for us, and we were once again stuck trying to figure it out on our own. We whittled at the brain trying to make it look as close as possible to the other students’ dissected brain. When we were finished, we still didn’t know what we were supposed to have accomplished.

This is perhaps why I’m not a brain surgeon. Whittling on live brains is not generally recommended. It wasn’t until I actually had to teach neuroanatomy to undergraduates at Okaloosa/Walton Community College that I finally understood some of what eluded me in vet school. Still, in my forty-two years of practicing veterinary medicine, I have never once performed brain surgery. But I’m probably better qualified now than when I graduated from vet school. After all, brain surgery isn’t rocket science.