Friday, October 22, 2010 Rest

I have an incredibly strong stomach for medical maladies. As the daughter of a pathologist, dinner conversations occasionally centered around what Dad had cut up that day. "Oh so the appendix was pus-filled. Wow, that's so cool. Hey pass the alfredo sauce." I would leaf through Dad's medical journals, both horrified and fascinated by skin lesions, tumors, and the occasional surgery. I've never sat in on an autopsy, but I've wanted to.

Even having said that the first time I saw a head, stripped of skin, and cut in half, I was a little taken aback. For a second I was nervous. And then I was fascinated. While Jeff and I were down in St. Louis we had the option to go see Bodies--The Exhibition. This incredibly displays shows each of the different systems of the body, using real bodies. The skeleton exhibit was like any anatomy class you may have taken. There was a sternum bone, some tiny ear bones, a full rib cage (with muscles still attached), and a full skeleton. The bones were beautifully preserved.

Stepping 10 feet over brought you to the muscles section, and that's where I had my first and only moment of uncertainty. The half head, used to display the muscles of the jaw, tongue, and neck, was just a little too off-putting for me. Strangely the entire body, posed as if kicking a soccer ball didn't give me pause at all. The body, stripped of skin, showed muscles, bones, nerves, and veins. It was incredible to think of how all the parts fit together. But that was nothing compared to what I was going to see. After that we walked downstairs and into the sections covering the digestive, respiratory, reproductive, nervous, endocrine, and circulation systems.

Bodies--the Exhibition uses actual cadavers to show off body systems. Bodies (or parts) are injected with liquid silicone rubber which replaces the water in the organs and tissues, making them impervious to rot. I had read about the technique in Stiff, Mary Roach's book about the uses of medical cadavers; and I was excited to see it in person. I had seen some images of other body exhibits but the focus of this exhibition seemed much different from the circus like images I'd seen. This exhibit focused on promoting health. We saw parts that were diseased alongside healthy tissues. An enlarged spleen was at least four times larger than its healthy counterpart. The lungs damaged by smoke sat right next to a healthy set of lungs and a box where you could drop your cigarettes.

The image that I will take away forever from this exhibition was a male body standing in the back of the room. The cadaver still had all its skin and had been cut into five different slices, from head to toe. Each section showed all the bones, internal organs, and muscles that made up the human form. We could peer into the sliced heart, and see the mess that makes up our intestines (not quite as orderly as I expected). Only the brain and the liver had been kept whole and hung out of the section that it had been cut from. I was in awe of how compact the human body really is. And I was truly fascinated.

There are no pictures for this post. First I didn't feel that it would be appropriate for my readers with less strong stomachs. And secondly (and more importantly) because the exhibit doesn't allow photography, a request that I applaud. In fact the exhibition was far more tastefully done than I was expecting. I think I had been prepared for a bit more of a circus sideshow feel rather than the very medical and educational exhibit we walked through. Jeff, Jeff's dad, and I all went and I think we could all say that the exhibit was far more informative than we had expected. I walked away with a better idea of how bodies fit together. I was also thinking of how important health is. I've seen the alternative. And its not pretty. But the bodies I saw that day were amazing. And beautiful in a bizarre way. More than anything I was glad I had gone. Informative and interesting.

No comments: