It’s officially the midpoint of my last semester of college (eek!). For this last semester, the class I am most excited about is my anatomy class which also has a gross anatomy lab meaning that I get to work with 3 human donors or cadavers to learn about the material. I wanted to share with you all about my experience working with these donors and what I’ve learned from it.
For those of you who are a little squeamish or freaked out by the process of dissecting bodies, proceed with caution.
I was more unnerved the first day than I expected to be.
I had seen human donor labs before and had participated in lots of animal dissections so I didn’t really think I’d be too upset or nervous. But there are a few things that throw me off in lab. For example, one day I was dissecting the back of a cadaver’s neck but cutting it made me sad because I could see the individual’s hair. When I get thrown off, I usually put my instruments down, take a step back, count to ten then get back to work. I’m still new to this experience so I’m never embarrassed when I need a moment to collect myself.
The smell can get to you.
The chemicals used to preserve the body have a strong smell that can be overwhelming when in the lab for many hours. If you need to excuse yourself for a few minutes just to get away from the smell, that’s fine. Also, a tip that I use is to only wear the same sweatshirt in lab (it’s super cold) that way only one of my clothing items smells like the lab. But don’t worry, a turn in the washing machine and the smell disappears!
Beware of the splash zone
This sounds kind of crass but when your dissecting a body, sometimes ‘juices’ from the body can spray on you so make sure to wear an apron and do not wear an outfit that you care a lot about. Most labs also offer goggles to wear over your eyes. My best advice is just not to think about what may or may not be spraying onto your T-shirt.
Take a moment to realize how freaking awesome this is!
A few weeks ago, I got to hold a whole human brain in my hands. Part of me was anxious to accidentally drop or break it. Part of me was terrified I would never memorize all the required structures within it. The other part of me was mystified. In my hands, I held someone’s entire life – their memories, their motor control, their skills, talents, and beliefs. I am literally tearing up at the memory.
Blunt dissection can be better
Blunt dissection means that you mostly use your hands rather than scalpels. The first few weeks, I only wanted to finely cut with a scalpel because I have a Grey’s Anatomy obsession (no apologies!) but often times, its more efficient just to use your fingers to separate muscle fibers and connective tissue. Also, this lessens the possibility of accidentally cutting something you don’t mean to (I say because I cut the cephalic vein two weeks ago…)
Human donor labs are overwhelming, but they are such an incredible opportunity to see how the body works that so few ever get a chance to experience. It is a privilege.