Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Not a post for the squeamish. (You know who you are)

My job, among other adjectives, is fascinating and affords me opportunities to see and do things that I would certainly not otherwise see or do.

I have a friend, currently, who is a neurosurgeon.  I've been bugging him to let me watch him perform a brain surgery.

Yesterday I tagged along into the cadaver lab to watch him practice. 

Once I got over the initial....I guess it was shock...sort of.....of being in the room with a cadaverous head (yes, just the head), the watching him practice part was super duper cool.  Who knew there was so much intricacy to the human head!  We didn't even get up in to the brain, but he did dissect the pituitary gland, and noodled around in all of those sinus cavities and into the brain stem.  (I get to see a craniotomy next!!)  It is truly mind blowing how the body works, and why it works, and how many moving pieces and parts there are.  It's a little scary, if you think about it too much, because there's so much that can go WRONG along the way, but when it doesn't, when it's all working like it should, its pretty darned amazing!

I had to wonder about this head we were using.  How was it that this head ended up being in this lab?  How many other heads are floating around out there in labs like this one?  I realized how incredibly important it is to have a steady supply of heads (and hearts and bodies) for physicians to practice on.  Clearly, his technique, while impressive, had room for improvement.  There is very very little room for error when maneuvering inside the human head....poking around, if you will, with sharp instruments.  It's good to know what one is doing. 

I said a silent thank you to this individual (whether they had anything to actually do with making the choice to donate themselves to science or whether it was done "for" them) for the crucial part they turned out to play in helping the rest of us stay alive. 

Thanks to my cousin (with whom I discussed today's adventure), this book is now on my "to read" list.

Stiff is an oddly compelling, often hilarious exploration of the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. For two thousand years, cadavers—some willingly, some unwittingly—have been involved in science's boldest strides and weirdest undertakings. They've tested France's first guillotines, ridden the NASA Space Shuttle, been crucified in a Parisian laboratory to test the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, and helped solve the mystery of TWA Flight 800. For every new surgical procedure, from heart transplants to gender reassignment surgery, cadavers have been there alongside surgeons, making history in their quiet way.

In this fascinating, ennobling account, Mary Roach visits the good deeds of cadavers over the centuries—from the anatomy labs and human-sourced pharmacies of medieval and nineteenth-century Europe to a human decay research facility in Tennessee, to a plastic surgery practice lab, to a Scandinavian funeral directors' conference on human composting. In her droll, inimitable voice, Roach tells the engrossing story of our bodies when we are no longer with them.

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