Friday, August 8, 2008

Gross 1

Hey kids. First day of gross anatomy lab, and I. Smell. Disgusting.

Everybody tries to make you nervous before your first lab: you're going to repel everyone around you! The smell clings to places that you didn't even think were exposed! Don't get latex gloves, because the formaldehyde eats right through! You're never going to want to eat meat again!

It's easy to convince yourself that they're just screwing with you, because those of us who have never taken an anatomy lab before have, for the most part, only seen dead bodies on TV (or at our med school interview, if we were lucky enough to catch one on our tour). But as it turns out, every bit of the above is true. The cadavers that we work with don't look like the ones on TV, which are usually some version of this:

They look somewhat different. Old, for one. Young, virile folks who die in their prime usually haven't thought about whether or not they want to donate their bodies to science, so our cadavers are elderly, for the most part. And there's certainly no standardization, because you can't be choosy with medical cadavers--it's not like you can go to the body store and pick out a new one. Black, white, skinny, obese, healthy, sick--the spectrum. Also, they're in various states of decomposition, because the cadavers might be two months or two years old, and properly or improperly embalmed.

Our cadaver (six students per table) is an older man, and it seems like he spent a lot of time laying on his back before and after he died--bruises, sloughing skin. Luckily he was pretty thin, which makes it easier to get to the muscles, but he's also a bit decomposed, which causes things to take on the same grayish, yellowish sheen.

We were all excited as we stood next to our humidors during the prelab. We knew that we were going to open them up in about five minutes, cut open the big plastic bag, and meet our cadavers for the first time. We were jittery and nervous and already a little queasy, but these were all excited reactions. And opening the bag was scary, because the body is of course not how you imagined it. How can you imagine who you're going to see? Today was superficial and intermediate back, which is the most basic part of anatomy lab (they like to start us slow, thank goodness). Even so, my brain feels like it's bursting (although that might be from the two and a half hours of embryology and biochem after lunch).

Speaking of lunch, there's a strange thing that happens when you're dissecting an embalmed body. For the first hour and a half, most of us felt like eating anything for the rest of the day was completely out of the question. It's not that the bodies smell overpoweringly like decay or anything too organic (although our cadaver had a sebaceous cyst that smelled...horrifying), but all of the formaldehyde and other chemicals turn your stomach a little. Then, even before you would normally get hungry for lunch, your stomach decides that it's time to eat. It's the same feeling as when you smell something really tasty and it makes you ravenous--something about the smell of the body and chemicals causes the same hungry reaction. But in this case your mind is so repelled by the thought of food that it's hard to reconcile your famished stomach.

After lab, we got changed and moderately cleaned up and headed over to the activities fair for some free pizza. We're always getting free lunches around here, but they unfortunately don't spring for anything healthier than pizza. Not that I'm complaining. Although the grease and cheese that the pepperoni was swimming in just made me think of...well, you know. I signed up for four or five interesting looking clubs (mostly because I feel guilty taking their candy if I don't sign their list).

Now remember kids, because it's true: formaldehyde DOES go right through latex! I figured the rumors were true, but I just couldn't bring myself to pay 35 clams for a box of nitrile gloves (although, really, it's a drop in the bucket). So now, even after double gloving, even after a cumulative ten minutes of hand washing with heavy duty soap, my poor hands smell like body grease.

Even though it's ninety degrees outside, I'm headed for this:

(via alice j-t)

I cranked up the AC to make it nice and cool in here, and I'm off to soak away my stench. Sorry this was such a long one, but it was a big day!

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