I’ve only seen one dead person before at an open casket funeral. Many things ran through my mind as I entered the stuffy, foul-smelling, tiny room where the cadavers “live.” The worst part of the experience was the rank stench of the preservatives used, that and the hot temperature of the room. Only the brave students from my class stayed for this portion of lab. We all crammed around the large metallic/dome-shaped table that held the cadaver.
I found myself the most apprehensive just as the body bag was being unzipped to reveal a stripped, dissected, elderly, human male. His face was covered with a soft cloth, I was grateful for this. After a few seconds of horror, shock, and fear, I felt pure fascination and exhilaration. So much ran through my mind. What was his name? Did he have kids? How did he die? Immense feelings of awe, reverence, and respect consumed my mind for this man. How amazing to donate your body to science for future generations to learn from.
This was a visceral experience unlike any other. My unfazed professor dove right into the cadaver’s chest cavity and pulled out most of the main organs for us to pass around the room. The weight of a human heart is seemingly the heaviest organic thing I’ve ever held. This man had double knee replacements, a valve in his trachea, and was a heavy smoker with blackened lungs.
The skin and tendons reminded me of the artichoke’s heart I had for dinner last night and his small intestines resembled certain coral species I’ve seen snorkeling. Everything on this earth is connected – we are life, all descending from one universal common ancestor…how humbling, but also so justifying and connecting.
Having the privilege of being able to handle a human being’s organs, to poke at his muscles was an amazing opportunity I will not soon forget. I left that stuffy room feeling the weight of the world and the finality of death its self. We are all going there, no matter what. However, individuals who donate their bodies to science seem to extend the ultimate terminus of death a little longer. For a short time, they live on, on to bestow a gift…the gift of knowledge.