I don’t know if I can cope with this.

For all the lecture we had beforehand – no hats, it’s a mark of respect, make sure you keep track of all parts of your cadaver, because they have to be returned to their families at the end of this year, fines for not bringing your lab coat or for putting your bag on the floor rather than on the hooks go to Macmillan Nursing, all of that – nothing prepares you for the actual fact of walking into that room. You’re distracted by the demonstrators talking and the queue for gloves and the sign-in sheet and all the rest of it – and then you suddenly realise that on those tables are people. People who until recently were alive.

I don’t know what they do to the cadavers to preserve them before we come in for our classes, but they look odd. Even if they looked less waxy and yellowed, it would still be a singularly strange experience, slowly taking them apart.

I don’t want to go into detail, it seems disrespectful to be talking about this and we’ve been told not to talk about what we do, not in public at least, and what is the internet if not massively public? Because if I’m loathe to talk about my friends from real life here on this blog, I surely have even less right to talk about someone who by definition has no voice or say in this.

I’m not comfortable with dissection classes at the moment. I’m learning a lot, that I do not disagree with, but I don’t feel comfortable with what we do. On a moral or on a literal level, although I can’t say why. It doesn’t repulse me – I am the least squeamish person ever, I don’t have a problem with the things we have to do in class, but I feel very, very uncomfortable about this having been actual person, with, as I believe, a soul, even if since I believe in the soul I do believe that soul is therefore Elsewhere in some way now, not resident in this body which is, after all, just a body. I mean, I suppose, that it upsets me rather than revolts me. It makes me sad for these people because, if they could have known what it would be like for their bodies to have been given to Science, would they have done it? I don’t know that I could, which is surely hypocritical in the extreme.

What I will say is, though, that I am learning a lot. And for that I am very grateful for this opportunity. There is no better way to learn anatomy, that I certainly agree with. I am grateful therefore to the people who gave their bodies for us to be able to learn this. I am grateful to the families of these people because I can’t imagine anything I’d like to happen less to someone I loved after they died.

So yes, here my honest feelings on the subject of what will be, I think, a quarter of my work this year. Or possibly an eighth – I don’t know what next semester holds in store yet.



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10 responses to “Dissection

  1. mikel

    i can only say, if it is of any comfort, it is likely that the people actually wished to donate their body for the use of science. My grandmother wanted to do just that and we respected her wishes. That was some time ago but she went into it with an open mind having asked various peopl, including her doctor, about it. Nothing she heard changed her mind.
    Hope that helps – even just a little.

  2. I know personally (and at some point I should really get around to filling out the paperwork for this) I want my body first to be used for organs, then for training medical students, then cremated.

    I reckon once I’m dead, my body’s basically just meat, so there’s no point letting it go to waste, rotting away in a hole in the ground. Might as well make it useful to people.

    I dunno, I reckon you’re probably freaked out just because seeing a dead body reminds us that one day, we too will just be meat. Being really, genuinely aware of your own mortality is freaky.

    • Jenny

      Oh heck, I’d forgotten that I’ll be like that one day too…cheers for reminding me…!

      I definitely want to donate my organs if they’re young enough to be of any use, but I really don’t think I could be dissected like this.

      Basically I’m still pretty freaked out but thank you both for trying. I think rationally and intellectually the whole thing makes sense but on a gut-feelings basic-morality level my brain just can’t quite get there….

  3. Flix

    This is why I could never do a medicine or healthcare related degree. No thank you.

  4. Jenny

    If they were still alive I’d probably be fine with the whole thing.

    Apart from the fact that obviously the work we were doing would kill anything living.

    What I mean is, I’ve seen some quite serious operations in theatre and I’m in all ways utterly fine with that.

    But yes – granted. Hoorah for hard science.

  5. Flix

    Yeah, operations on live patients makes sense (I still wouldn’t, but that’s my all-encompassing, dealing with the humana body? nah, ta) but I agree, the dead deal freaks me out more than most other bodily medicine (though obviously, learning purposes, yada yah), while fascinating others, so each to their own, eh.

  6. Flix

    humana body. Ha. Humuna, humuna.

  7. Jenny

    See, learning purposes: we are the only biomeds course in the entire country that still does anatomy with human cadavers. So whilst it is certainly a very valuable learning experience and I am very grateful, it is clearly possible to learn the anatomy we need to know without recourse to actual bodies.

    So I feel slightly churlish and ungrateful, when really, I am very grateful, I’m just also struggling a lot.

  8. I hate to say it because it sounds criminal, but you get used to it. It’ll be just another day in the DR before you know it, and you might or might not be ok with that.

  9. Jenny

    I’m sure I will get used to it, in the end – but you’re right, I don’t know that I will be OK with that.

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