So I should probably preface this post with a warning that the faint of heart should not proceed. I haven’t written a post in a while, and I was having a hard time coming up with anything interesting to write about, and then I thought, “Hey…I cut open dead people twice a week.” Seems like a fairly interesting subject. Gross Anatomy Lab seems all too familiar to me by this point, but for those of you who have never seen or worked with a cadaver, you might have a few questions.
Cadavers are (or at least were) real people at one point in time. They are people who have chosen to donate their bodies to “science,” which in this case means a bunch of wannabe doctors who have no clue what they’re doing….a.k.a….science. We are only given the age and cause of death of our cadavers. We don’t know their names, their professions, or anything else about them. We gave our cadaver the name Walter, but on occasion we like to call him Big Walt. I have heard of another cadaver nicknamed “Betty Sue” and there is a particular female cadaver I like to call Mabel.
Every cadaver is different, especially when you get to the inside. Blood vessels are notorious for branching in different ways in different people. Some cadavers have large muscles, while others have teeny tiny ones. Some cadavers’ muscles are dark, while others’ are light. I believe our cadaver was referred to as having a more “beef”-like appearance in comparison to a cadaver with a more “pork”-like consistency. (Yes, such comparisons do come back to haunt you when you are actually eating those foods.) There is one cadaver with pink skin. And when I say pink, I mean PINK. And, there is even a cadaver with an extra forearm muscle.
When one thinks of dissection, it is usually more glamorous than it is in real life. Some parts are more “fun” or “interesting” than others, such as removing the skin or sawing through the ribs, but most of the time we are clearing away fat or fascia, and it takes a very long time, especially if you have a particularly large cadaver. So far we have dissected the back, the upper limb, the arm, forearm, and wrist, and the thorax. Today, in particular, we cut open the heart. Some dissections, such as cutting into the heart, are really only one-person jobs, so there is a lot of standing around. Nevertheless, we find ways to pass the time.
I have found that the more we dissect, the more desensitized to the situation we become. When we first started to dissect, if I accidentally bumped up against the cadaver with my exposed arm I would kind of freak out. But now…well, let’s just say there are worse things that can happen. A few weeks ago a fellow student got a piece of cadaver flung into his open mouth. Blech. It is also really easy to forget that you are working with a human being. There are moments, however, when we are reminded, such as during our dissection of the hand when we noticed the wedding ring indentation on Walter’s left ring finger or when we see the tattoo or painted fingernails of another cadaver.
Dissection can be grueling and tedious at times, and it probably seems pretty disgusting to some people, but it truly is an invaluable experience. A lot of medical schools are moving away from dissection and switching to simulated computer programs. I think that technology can be really helpful in learning about the human body, but when you compare a cartoon depiction to the real thing, there is no comparison. It is really amazing how different things look when you try to find them on the cadaver. I am so thankful to have the experience of dissecting, and I am grateful to those people who donate their bodies to us wannabe doctors. This definitely won’t be the last time I talk about cadavers, so stay tuned for more!