I am often asked by clients, colleagues and friends, if I am going to “cut up dead bodies” this year. This phrase is meant to be playful and poke fun at my obsession with the human body, but I believe it’s also a way for the speaker to depersonalize what it is they think, I am actually doing in the lab.
Language is important in the lab. The gift of the donor is so profoundly appreciated, none of us would dare utter an indecent word related to the work being done. The language we use defines the dissection in ways that honour structure, function and organization. It’s a language of objectivity which allows for space between my intellectual cognition and emotional self. The term “human dissection” carries with it a very different picture than “cutting up dead bodies”. You can see how the two refer to the same thing but, they are not even close.
In April of this year, I participated in my favourite dissection to date. For the first time ever, I entered the lab with a plan of what I wanted to see. I spent all 42 hours engrossed in one project: the head and neck.
It is typically more of a challenge to objectify this region and the physical work of dissecting here is difficult because of the delicate structures involved. This made it easy for my lab mates to give me exclusive access to our donor’s cervical spine and cranium.
I had planned to explore the facial muscles, blood and lymph vessels, the muscles that move the eyes, the deep sinuses and how they connect to one another, the muscles of mastication, the bones and joints of the cervical spine and the muscles that traverse between the skull and the mid back. I wanted to see the passages of nerves into the brain, the glands of salivation, the trabeculae of the bones and the structure of the intervertebral discs.
Forty-two hours is not a lot of time, but I tell you, the wealth of information I took in during those hours will probably take me more than that time to write out. So here is your introduction to the writings to follow.
I have a feeling that there is a profound curiosity beneath the inquiries about my work with “dead bodies”, and those of you who have caught yourselves asking… You should read on.