When I tell people I teach anatomy:
"Oh, that's cool. You get to stay up-to-date on material."
When I tell people I study cadavers:
"Oh...And you're OK working with dead people?"
The above are common responses I receive when talking with patients, friends or family about other aspects of my career. From an outsider's perspective, I understand that working on cadavers seems strange. For me, it's thrilling.
The human body is an amazing creation that has bewildered many for years, including myself. There is a humbling mix of complexity and simplicity when you stand next to a dissected cadaver. At first, it seems like an objective science experiment involving this specimen's skin, nerves, blood vessels, internal organs, muscles, ligaments, bones and more.
Take a step back (mentally, not physically) and you quickly begin to realize that this cadaver in front of you is the remnant of someone that was a war veteran, a teacher, an accountant, a sister, a child, a spouse, a musician, a fisherman, a motorcyclist or any number of other possibilities. This cadaver is so much more than a science project.
This is where RESPECT lives.
As a student, and even an instructor, of human anatomy you must treat cadavers with RESPECT. This goes beyond careful dissection techniques and keeping anatomical structures intact, which is a fundamental aspect of studying anatomy. True RESPECT involves maturity. Avoiding inappropriate comments, gestures or ill-treatment of the specimen is just as important. After all...this was a living person not too long ago.
While I understand the comments I receive from the public regarding my work with cadavers, we must all understand the great reward of studying the human body in a realistic state. The cadaver lab is much more than the stainless steel lab portrayed in the media, it is a place where academics and students share in the exploration of knowledge.
Many of you have probably heard of or even seen the Bodyworlds Exhibit. It is an amazing exhibit that puts real human cadavers on display in a variety of poses. This is possible through a process known as plastination. I bring this up because it is one of the most popular ways that the general public is exposed to human cadavers...and I could spend days looking at just that exhibit. Next time you have the chance, go to Bodyworlds. It will open your mind to the fascinating world of human anatomy and cadavers.
Please know this...you will not offend me if you think I'm weird. I enjoy working with cadavers. I understand that many of you have not spent years in a cadaver lab as I have. I understand there are societal separations of the living and the dead for the general public, and rightfully so.
Next time you hear of someone working with cadavers...maybe this post will cause you to truly consider what that means. As always, I value your feedback and look forward to hearing from you.