Baby's First Cadaver Lab

If I actually had a baby book from my first years and there was a page for "40 Years Later", I would lovingly add "Baby's First Cadaver Lab", as that is what I had today.

As part of my increasing desire to learn about life and the human form, I participated in a lab up at the University Of Bridgeport (NOT depicted above). These labs are led by Joe Muscolino, a well respected teacher, anatomist, kinesiologist, Chiropractic Physician and author of several books on human anatomy and kinesiology. Joe, unfortunately, was in bed with a terrible cold, so his colleague Alex led our group in the lab.

I have watched many dissection and cadaver labs on DVD from the comfort of my living room (while on my spin bike, oddly enough). The first I watched was Part I of Gil Hedley's Integral Anatomy series. I did pretty well the first time watching a human form being dissected, but got a bit queasy when Gil got to the myofascial layer of the gluteus maximus. Seeing the redness of the muscle with the glistening fascia jiggle as he talked and palpated kept me from eating steak for a few weeks. Yet, after time (and the occasional cut to a nature scene with a babbling brook that Gil so kindly edited in), I was able to watch with a curious eye and calm stomach. I was then brave enough to continue on with the series which went deeper into the form, down to the viscera. This... this was cool stuff.

I also watched Tom Myer's dissected evidence of his Anatomy Trains theory. This series of DVD's blew my mind as I learned all about the fascial relationships of all structures in our bodies. Now I was LOOKING at what I had read about. It was at about this time I realized how much I wanted to participate.

So, there I was this morning, excited and a wee bit nervous as I headed to the lab. It was advised that we wear clothes that we don't mind getting smelly. Great. I made my way to the basement (of course) and was grateful that I dressed warmly for the next three refrigerated hours. I opted to not put Vick's Vapor Rub under my nose and go hard core. I was ready for this!

This is what I discovered: The actual viewing and touching of a cadaver was not a big deal at all. I had no emotional response and if anything, I was eager to get hands on, to touch what I can only imagine I touch when I give massage.

What I also discovered: These particular human forms should have had their last viewing three days ago... some more than others, and definitely one in particular.

Formaldehyde, the embalming fluid used to preserve the human form after life, has a pretty significant odor. It didn't bother me in general. However, with these cadaver who had been around since the fall, the odor seemed to have gone from clinical to down right putrid. The one form who exhibited this the worst was the one used to show the viscera. I really wanted to get close, but the odor was more than I could take. I would step a bit back, get a breath of fresher air and attempt to go back in.

Despite the odor, Alex showed us all the major muscle groups, internal organs and even a pacemaker inside two of the cadavers. I held in my hands a healthy lung, a smokers lung, a heart and a brain. I was absolutely fascinated as I moved these structures around, seeing the different openings where vessels and nerves would wind through. I was truly seeing something... many things, really... for the very first time, and I was giddy.

I felt quite victorious as I left the basement. I made it through my first cadaver lab without getting queasy or emotional. Triumph was mine... until I stepped outside in the fresh air.

At once, I could taste the stench of the lab in my mouth. I began to gag. I breathed in again and the taste was even more profound and I gaged even more, tears piercing out of my eyes. All the way to my car I gagged and coughed, hoping I wouldn't vomit. I got in my car and fumbled for the breakfast bar I had in my bag and stuffed it in my mouth in an attempt to taste something other than what I was now perceiving as death. I ate an apple immediately after and felt better. I took a deep breath and got a dreadful whiff my clothing. I opened the windows in 14 degree weather and called a friend to keep myself from gagging again.

So much for triumph!

Now I am showered, changed and washing every piece of clothing that was on my body earlier this morning. The smell is still lingering in my brain, but surprisingly I have an appetite. I wouldn't even mind a big juicy steak for dinner. For now I will settle for a nap.

On the whole, the experience was great and Alex was a wonderful teacher. It is unfortunate that we did not have the freshest of tissue to view, as most of the cadavers tendons and ligaments were completely dried, making it difficult to really study and palpate.

It has not discouraged me from going to more labs and if anything, I am even more eager. I really look forward to the day I can take a the week long Integral Anatomy Workshop with Gil Hedley where I will actually dissect and graduate to the status of "Somanaut."