Monday, August 31, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

Honestly, it's the smell of formalin more than anything else. I have had very limited exposure to dissections. In AP Bio (Senior year of high school), we dissected sharks and clams and I wasn't brilliant at it. On the back of that raging success, I met my cadaver* this afternoon. Then my lab mates and I proceeded to expose the back muscles for our first real dissection on Friday.

Blind expectation, or in my case dread, just isn't the proper way to prepare for an event of this nature. I tried to mentally steel myself ahead of time to avoid the inconvenience / embarrassment of reacting poorly. Whether or not that was necessary, I'll claim victory. Still, nothing I could imagine quite captured the actual feeling of unzipping the disaster bag to reveal our lab group's cadaver. It isn't that I expected the body to sit bolt upright and start recreating Thriller. That would be silly. And horrifying. And then probably hilarious. However, of my interactions with humans over the course of my life, the totality have been with those of the living and breathing variety.

This is something new and new is generally difficult, especially when new has been soaked in formalin. What really accentuates the problem is my lack of familiarity with any real part of the process. Compare with the common experience of trying a new food, say ostrich. Eating is nothing new, certainly. Everything around the ostrich is probably familiar too, especially if it's an ostrich burger. You nibble, you decide that ostrich is much like other meats you've had in burger form, and you're comfortable again. We're pretty good about handling something new when we can wrap it in a bundle of familiar. According to a great piece by Malcolm Gladwell (one of my favorite reads), that's one reason a squeeze bottle of ketchup is such a big hit with kids: the ability to maintain a little bit of home in enemy territory. Perhaps I'll bring my bike to lab and do our Friday back muscle lab on the wind trainer.

Also, how in the world does the stench of formalin get through two layers of nitrile gloves?

*In case you were wondering, our cadaver is male, probably 75 or so years old, and something like six feet tall. It should also be noted that I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to dissect a cadaver.