Fight or flight in the biology lab

Exam anxiety has been a hot topic here at the U of M recently. I myself have experienced exam anxiety, although it had nothing to do with a medical condition and everything to do with my good friend, procrastination.

The year was 2001, and I was enrolled in what was widely considered to be the most difficult biology course at the University of Winnipeg, “Comparative Chordate Zoology.”

It was a six credit-hour course, and although the class component was quite tame, the lab could have been used to extract vital information from captured spies.
Over the course of the year pairs of students dissected a lamprey (think eel), shark, salamander, turtle, pigeon and cat in order to gain an appreciation for evolution and how muscle groups and organs differentiated over time.

The final lab exam consisted of several “stations,” each with a dissected animal that had several numbered pins sticking out of various muscles and organs. Students were expected to move from station to station and simply jot down what muscle or organ the pin was sticking out of.

Due to my rampant procrastination I had failed to adequately study for this exam, which I still consider to be the most difficult I have ever attempted.

This dawned on me 30 minutes before the test was set to begin, and the strangest sensation I have ever experienced came over me: the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, my skin tingled, my hearing became super acute and I felt like I had enough energy to run forever.

I imagine this is what a rabbit must experience when it smells a predator.
My best guess about what happened is that my body thought it was about to face a life or death situation and had turned on my flight or fight mechanism.
In the end I survived. My GPA wasn’t as lucky.