Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Death is incredible...

Not incredible as in 'Wow, that's an awesome, wonderful experience' but incredible as in overwhelming. It's a reminder that life is to be respected...

Before this experience, the closest I ever got to a dead body was in high school, when my boyfriend took me to the county morgue. I was mortified. There were bodies everywhere-limbs and body parts in bags, legs sticking out of these tall steel tiers, hands and arms piled on top of each other, dead bodies on metal operating tables and the smell and temperature were overwhelming. That was about 12-15 years ago.

Today I went to Anatomy lecture and lab. Nothing exciting about lecture, just normal fare. Lab, on the other hand, presented an experience I wasn't expecting. As you know, I've been looking forward to Anatomy lab for weeks now. I couldn't wait to dissect the cadavers and see what the human body's internal organization is really like.

Well, this experience gave me another perspective. First, the Anatomy lab is much smaller than I expected, slightly larger than a regular classroom. There is no formaldehyde smell or freezing temperature because this is one expensive lab. The embalming fluid used to preserve the bodies is pretty advanced. The bodies can be preserved for a year with no issues. The air in the lab is nearly pure. The HVAC system circulates the air over 15 times per hour! In case you don't recognize the significance of this a home system would only circulate the air 4 or 5 times per hour. After reviewing all the safety procedures the instructor gave a small talk on the history and importance of the cadavers.

It was very moving. I nearly cried. I'm not joking.

His talk was so moving because one of the cadavers is very...unique. Cadavers are donated by consent of the deceased. Most cadavers are seniors-people in their 70s and 80s who have died of natural causes. Because of their age many of them have had physical ailments and surgeries, pacemakers, bypass surgery, darkened lungs due to cigarettes, etc. These surgeries and ailments often provide imperfections in the body because the body has been altered. Additionally, senior cadavers show normal signs of age--wrinkled skin, thin muscles, smaller stature, thin body hair, excess body fat, decreased bone size and density, sagging breasts and so on.

While I obviously can't give you all the details of our cadavers I can tell you this: one of our cadavers is a very young male who overdosed on an illegal drug. This nearly brought my instructor to tears because the deceased man was so young, younger than my instructor's oldest daughter...young enough to not legally drink.

As the instructor told us the story of this man we were all moved. The room was eerily quiet. I suppose we were all reflecting on the cause of his death.

Because of his age, his body was in perfect health. His heart was young and strong, his muscles big and fully formed, his skin tight and firm with just the right amount of resiliency, his organs full of size and elasticity. It was amazing to see the difference between this young cadaver and the elder cadaver.

It also made me angry.

This young man was strong and in good health (he looked strong and healthy and his body wasn't marked by the drug so it's possible he wasn't a heavy or frequent user). Normally the faces of the deceased are covered but for reasons I won't go into here his face was not covered. What a difference this makes! I examined every feature of his face. He was fairly handsome. His eyes were closed of course but I could see every detail of his face--the length of his eyelashes, the coarseness of eyebrows, the thickness of his hair, the width of nose and the fullness of his mouth. You could even tell how long it had been since he last shaved and had his hair cut. He was frozen in time, frozen in his last moments on Earth.

All I could think about was that this young man once had a soul, he was ALIVE. He walked and talked and laughed at one time. He was someone's son or brother or friend. He was so young! Much younger than I and yet he made a decision that took his life. I wondered what else he may have contributed to those who loved him had he lived longer. His muscles were large and strong, he looked like he may have been active. He could have experienced so many other things... I wondered what his family felt. I wondered even more so because his family donated his body so that I could learn! How moving! How selfless!

To see death and life together so close...and to know that this person was alive once...and that someone he loved and that loved him back felt the need for study was important enough to forgo a burial. How incredible is this?! I thought about my own family and wondered if I could ever do it. I don't know...

The body of the deceased is to be respected. This person was once ALIVE and LIVED and BREATHED as I do now. He was loved and loved back. He laughed, he cried, he felt happiness and sadness and anger and apparently sorrow or emptiness or peer pressure? I don't know--I can't imagine why a person would take such a dangerous and lethal drug. He contributed to life, in some way, however large or small.

It is a HUGE honor and privilege to be able to experience God's creation so close. I've said this once before and I'll repeat it: The human body is truly God's greatest creation. It's movement, it's dependency on everything within it and around it, it's constant adjustment to its environment. But even more amazing is how the soul inhabits the body and gives it...LIFE. How did God manage to do this???

If there were ever an argument for a higher power, this would be it. Man could NEVER do this. How do you give a body a soul? How do you give the soul a personality? How does the soul cause the body to move, or give it color and elasticity, or form and function? Even though the body is full of electrical impulses no matter how much electricity you give it it will NEVER move or function as when a soul occupies it. How can you not be amazed by this???

Anatomy Lab is a full year...a full year with this one young man.

It's interesting that we're going to violate his body...

I'm so moved by this, even now, many hours later. I feel like I owe him something...and his family for such a selfless contribution.

So, I promise to make the most of this learning experience and not take for granted this incredible opportunity. This is a blessing... and a privilege... and I feel honored.

No comments:

Post a Comment