Menditto Holds Human Brain In Hand Darren “The Moose” Menditto skates his way through medical school.
Darren Menditto has nice teeth. They’re big, white, and straight with a blinding lack of tarter. They bounce in front of my face, like Cheshire Cat’s, as he smiles at my queasy facial expression. He just finished describing the opening of a cadaver bag, exposing a corpse to fresh air, and the smell that instantly mushroom-clouds out. His hands gyrate around his face, as he pantomimes the stink enveloping him. People have been known to puke and pass out from the reek, he comments with another smile. Next, he diagrams a “Y-cut” down my back with his middle finger. That’s the initial incision, shaped like a Y, he sliced down the middle of his dead, 64-year-old lady’s shoulder blades to “open her up.” He explains, as if he’s asking for the salt at dinner, that “skinning” a person is similar to peeling griptape off a board: “You have to grab a corner with a clamp and pull.”
Most of Menditto’s cadaver conversation comes off like friendly banter. Taken out of context, he’d seem like study buddies with Silence of the Lambs’ star Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector. But after two years of arduous medical school, dicing up dead people is old hat for Menditto–another skill to add to his bag of tricks like eggplants or 540s.
Being a respected professional skateboarder is an accomplishment Menditto could easily coast on. But in the middle of his career, he decided he also wanted to be a doctor–one of the most demanding professions–while continuing to skate. “I went from being a pro skater to a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week medical student,” Menditto says, reflecting on the drastic change.
He attends Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and getting in is harder than a kickflip Indy revert–the school had 6,000 applicants for 250 vacancies. Even though he maintained a 4.0 GPA in his pre-med courses (organic chemistry, genetic chemistry, biology, and physics), the chance of slipping in was still slim to none. But when Menditto finally has the “MD” following his name, he’ll have skateboarding to thank–at least partially. He wrote about his profession in his entrance-exam essay. “When I got my interview, they were like, 'So, you’re a professional skateboarder?'” Menditto recalls. “Usually they ask questions about why you’d make a good doctor, what sort of research you’ve done–we talked about everything from skating around Europe to being in the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. They thought it was neat. It made me stand out.” Menditto thinks they rationalized that if he possessed the determination to become a professional skateboarder, he could apply the same attitude to medical school.
Menditto had little time to assimilate into the medical-student lifestyle. The first class of the first day was gross anatomy–the study of organs and body structure. When he walked into the vast room with 60 pale corpses wrapped in plastic baggies, his attitude toward stiff, dead people was slightly different than today. “It was weird, you’re face to face with mortality,” he remembers, musing.
It took a while for Menditto to warm up to the fact that he was peeling and picking at a person who had been alive a few months previous. “It’s bizarre holding a human brain in your hand. It freaks you out. The brain’s what makes us who we are.” After three days, though, Menditto lost the heebie-jeebies. “You end up making jokes as a way to deal with it. You’re taking organs out and asking people where they want to eat lunch.”
Gross anatomy was so demanding that Menditto frequently found himself chilling with his chopped-up corpse many a weekend night. He also admits he had to cut down on his skating for the first year, but now that he’s in his second year, and his studies are a little more relaxed, he has more recreational time and can even fit in contests and demos between classes.
Menditto only has two yeaars left at medical school, then another four years of residency before he gets into the serious money (anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 dollars a year). Including the five-and-half years he spent at college on pre-med courses, he’ll have spent close to fourteen years training and will owe 50,000 dollars in student loans. He’s thinking of specializing in orthopedic surgery to pay off that debt. A smart plan, considering all his skate friends, with their bum knees, bent wrists, and tweaked ankles promise a steady flow through Dr. Menditto’s office doors for years to come.