Now that I've had a few days to digest all that I saw on Tuesday night at the cadaver lab, I thought I'd put some of my feelings out there.
I didn't react in the way that I thought I would. Going into the lab, I was super apprehensive. I have a very sensitive sense of smell and I was afraid the smell would overwhelm me. I can remember when I was a Lab Assistant in high school Anatomy and the way the lab would smell so nasty during fetal pig dissection. I was surprised that it didn't smell that bad, I mean it didn't smell good, but it was nothing that made me feel nauseated.
When the Grad Assistants opened the first bags and we were able to see the bodies, it was also completely different from my expectations. I thought it would be like looking at a body at a funeral, where you would see the person as they were. To start, they had the heads covered so there was no viewing of the face (until much later when we asked to see it). Also, the lab has been in possession of the bodies for two semesters of classes now so all that we were able to see (and all that we were really concerned with for that matter) were the bones and muscles. It was more like viewing an exhibit at a museum than looking at a funeral body.
I stayed for about an hour. Although most of my classmates did, I wasn't interested in touching anything. At some point, I found out that we had essential oils so the eucalyptus smell helped me stay in the room longer without being disturbed by the smell. Like I mentioned before, some of us were interested in seeing the "faces" and we got to see a skull that had been cut open. It was kind of like viewing the sinuses from the inside. We were able to see the gender, age and cause of death and even the name if you looked on the tag on each body's leg. The lab at UIC got the bodies from Wright State University in Ohio (I assume they have a teaching hospital there) and eventually the skeletons and all of the parts removed will go back there where Wright State will have a cremation service for the families.
For my feelings on everything, I think if I had been in the lab all semester, I would have been very interested to know the people behind the bodies. I was amazed to see all of the tendons, ligaments, bones, muscles and even a few organs. It's crazy that they are able to keep the bodies preserved for so long. At some point, I realized that these people actually did a very "yogic" thing. In yoga, we are taught to believe that our body is really just our vessel and these people obviously had the detachment from their physical body enough to want to donate it to science after their passing.
It's amazing to look at a body, that is just that. A body. Nothing else, no energy, no life, no breath. I have been thinking about the experience over and over in my mind and for me, it was an "ah ha" moment. My body is just my body. It's a gift from God and I am meant to take care of it. These bodies were all of elderly people and to look at the way their muscles atrophied over time was sad. The GA mentioned that one of the men was very obese and cutting away all of his fat to study the skeleton was a time consuming and pretty gross process for her. I hope that I am able to better love and appreciate myself and what my body does for me in the future. It's given me a great deal of pause this week as I look at the things I put into my body and the way I treat it. Often times in a yoga class, the instructor will give various instructions such as "give yourself a hug" or "give yourself some love". I feel slightly different about those phrases now and I need to give myself more love when I'm outside of the yoga studio.
I'm still sorting out quite a few of my emotions that have come up from the experience but I know I want to continue on my journey to find a healthier balance in my life, in my diet, stress level and my personal choices.