Human Cadaver Dissection: The First Cut

This is the first post in a series of reflections on my time in a human cadaver dissection lab.That said, if you’re the kind of person who had a hard time dissecting a frog in high school biology then you might want to sit this one out.


“You can look at his face first if you want to,” my professor tells us as he drags the zipper open along the body bag’s seam. The tang of formaldehyde fills the air.

We’re heavy with protective gear. A thick white lab coat hangs almost to my feet. Nitrile gloves cling to my hands. Yellow plastic wraps my arms from wrist to elbow. My face is hidden behind a mask and goggles.

“But you don’t have to do it right away,” he says as he finishes unzipping the bag. “Some people feel uncomfortable looking at the face.”

I think that I am one of those people, but I don’t say anything. I’m afraid of what he’ll think.

A layer of plastic sits beneath the body bag’s thick flap. It looks like a garbage bag, the kind you’d use to gather dead plants from your garden. He draws back the plastic to either side. I brace myself, expecting to come face-to-face with the bag’s occupant, but there’s a cotton sheet soaked with preservative beneath the black plastic. The unmistakable shape of a human being sits beneath it.

He stops at the cotton sheet and looks up at us.”Ready?”

“Yeah,” I say. I see my parter nod from the corner of my eye.

I hold my breath as he peels back the sheet. The skin is pale, yellow-white. My eyes immediately fall on pair of incisions running along the inside of both thighs stained with a red so dark it’s almost black. A matching cut mars the tissue midway up the side of his neck so deep that it looks like the aftermath of a knife attack.

I follow my professor’s finger as he points to one of the cuts in the thighs. He explains how the cut provides access the femoral artery. With the artery open the embalmer could pump fluid into the body, taking advantage of the body’s circulatory system to replace every drop of the cadaver’s blood with preservative. Then, with two fingers he spreads the wound open to expose something that looks like frayed wire.

He fingers the frayed material. “Once the blood’s out they just tie up the end of the artery with some string.”

Hearing him say this gives me a little shock. I can’t help but feel that using something as simple as string inside someone is wrong somehow. Maybe not wrong, but crude.

My professor begins his dissection demonstration at the chin. Scalpel in hand, he makes a shallow incision along the curve of the jaw bone and begins separating the skin from the layer of fat and connective tissue beneath it. As he peels the skin back I recognize the white fibers of the underlying connective tissue and feel a burst of confidence. When I’d signed up for the class I’d been unsure about my ability to translate what I’d learned on anatomy models to an actual human body. Now I begin to feel more comfortable, and as he offers us scalpels I willingly take one.

Our work for the day involves making incisions down the front of the thighs and separating the skin from the underlying tissue, much the same way he did with the chin. Other dissection teams have already removed the skin from the chest and abdomen so our work is meant to build on theirs. He asks if we understand, and we both say yes. I’m glad he doesn’t ask if we’re nervous.

My hand has a slight tremor as I make my first incision from the top of his right thigh downward toward his knee. I use a pair of forceps with serrated teeth to hold the skin taught and gently cut through the layer of fat beneath. My cuts are clumsy compared to those of my professor. A layer of fat remains on the body in the wake of my cuts, rising and falling like a mountain range on the surface of a globe. But the longer I work at it the cleaner my work becomes and the more confident I feel about my ability to perform in the class.

After ninety minutes our professor calls time. During our clean up time my mind lingers on who this man was before he reached us. Not too long ago he was doing all the things that people do. What were his goals? Did he achieve them before the end? Or did he die plagued with regret about what he should have done differently. Did he have children? Did he fall in love? When he was dying, did he realize that it was the end?

I feel like I have a lot more to say, but in the interests of posting I’ll leave it there.


Human Cadaver Dissection: A Writer’s Reflections

Whenever I tell someone that I am in school the question that almost always follows is, “What classes are you taking?”

It’s a normal question to ask, but not so comfortable for me to answer. See, last term I was recommended by my human anatomy professor for enrollment in a class that is only offered once per year: human cadaver prosection. Out of the hundreds of anatomy students at my school I was given one of the fourteen seats reserved for the dissection of a human cadaver. It’s an incredible opportunity, albeit one that elicits some very odd looks when I tell people how excited I am to be a part of it.

Right about now some of you are thinking, “Well, it’s official. Scott has completely lost his mind.”

And that’s cool. I totally get it. Poking around the inside of a human being isn’t something that appeals to everyone. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure most of you are happy that someone has done it, right? Because without actually getting into the body and examining its parts we’d be hard pressed to truly understand how we tick.

For the next couple of months I am going to post reflections on my time in the dissecting room. I feel like this class lands pretty high on the list of writing-worthy experiences, so I am not going to pass it up.

If any of you reading this have any thoughts on the subject I’d love to see them in the comments.

I’m Only Happy When it Flows

If you’ve ever spent any considerable amount of time pounding away at a story then you know the frustration that comes with getting stuck on some idea you’re trying to convey. You writers know what Im talking about. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to put things down in the right way.

On the other hand, there are the times when you cannot seem to get anything wrong. These are the spots in your writing where you are hammering away at the keys and it seems like every effing word you put to the page is solid gold. I like to call this writing sweet spot, “The Flow.”

Right now I am up to my temporal bones in some serious Flow, my friends. I started working on a new story on February 19th just for poops and chuckles, and as of today I hit about thirteen K’s worth of words. Awesome, right? It’s even extra special sweet because I got into the thing without any expectations about where it would go. I just set out to write something down in those rare moments when I wasn’t busy with school work or changing diapers and here I am with a story that I’m actually pretty stoked about. I have no idea how long The Flow is going to stick with me, but for now I’m just taking the time to appreciate a good story.

Denied: On Finding Out I Was Rejected By Graduate School

Well, it’s 99% official. I did not get into graduate school this year. Sad day. I’m not going to pretend like I’m not super bummed, because a totally am. However, I’ve decided to try out this thing called “look at the bright side” hat I keep hearing people talk about. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Apparently it involves looking at all the stuff that’s good in your life and being thankful for it. I don’t know how good I’m going to be at it, but here goes:

  1. My family – If having an awesome family was a prerequisite for getting into graduate school then I’m pretty sure they would have given me two spots just to accommodate how cool my wife and daughter are.
  2. My health – In the course of volunteering at hospitals and clinics over the past couple of years I have come across a lot of sick people who have things a whole lot worse than I do. I guarantee if you go and spend a couple of weeks volunteering in an ER you are going to leave that place with a totally different perspective on how good you have it.
  3. Everything I have learned – Over the past couple of years I have learned about integral calculus, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, molecular biology, and some other sciencey stuff. Pretty sweet, right? The breadth of knowledge I’ve put into my brain has forever changed the way I look at the world. Plus, getting good grades in all those classes has made me feel really smart.
  4. Opportunities – Getting denied this year doesn’t mean that I can’t reapply next year. I’m planning on going through an EMT course this summer to make myself a bit more marketable to reapply next year. Not only that, but my kick-ass grades got me recommended to an invite-only cadaver prosection class next quarter which I am super stoked to be a part of.
  5. The chance to write – I feel like this should be under its own bullet point as I am so incredibly excited to be able to get back to work on the stories that have been brewing in my head.

I guess I’m not so bad at this bright side thing after all.

What’s good, yo?

So it’s been a hot minute since I knocked the dust off the old bloggity blog, but since my wifey and her friend are plowing through some episodes of True Blood with our munchkin I thought I’d use some of this ever-so-rare free time to stretch out the old writing muscles and post an update to what’s been going down with me lately. In bullet form, of course.

  • BABY: Having a munchkin is pretty much the best thing there is. In four months she has gone from a skinny little critter that could barely see me to this perfect little giggling specimen of babyhood. Aside from waving her arms like a crazy person and slobbering all over me, she has also begun some serious attempts at rolling over onto her stomach without daddy’s help. Yeah, man. She’s doing big things.
  • GRADUATE SCHOOL: My application for nurse practitioner school has been submitted so now there’s nothing to do but wait until January to see if I get an interview. I’m still taking classes to try and bulk up my science cred (organic chemistry and molecular biology are my frenemies this quarter) but I’m officially a contender for the grand prize of a seat in the class of 2017. Here’s to hoping I haven’t wasted a bunch of Uncle Sam’s loot with all this G.I. Bill I’ve been cashing in on.
  • WRITING: The lack of posts on this blog should be indicative of how often I’ve been writing. I’ve been a science/math machine this last year and a half, maintaining a GPA around 3.8, but that has definitely cost me any free time I might have to put towards writing. Toss in my new parental duties and I end up having even less time than I did before, which doesn’t even seem possible. I tap the keys a bit between quarters but any writer will tell you the only way to get better at storytelling is to do it a lot. And by “a lot” I mean, you know, all the damn ass time.

That’s all there is for now. I have an exam in molecular bio on Tuesday that I’m feeling pretty good about but I definitely need to keep studying for. Then I’ve got to do a grip of shiz biz in the lab to because my class is taking part in a research project with Washington State University. We’re trying and track down this gene in a particular strain of Pseudomonas Fluorescens that might have a big impact on resistance to this wicked nasty root disease called Take-All. Pretty interesting if you’re into sciencey stuff.

Finally, I want to leave you all with my new favorite anti-joke from this thread on r/AskReddit. Props to u/jailbrooks1 for this perfectly anti-joke.

Man walks into a bar and pauses: at the other end of the bar, there’s this guy with a big orange head. Just kind of sitting there, mooning into his drink. So the man asks the bartender, “Say, what’s up with the guy with the big orange head?” And the bartender says, “It’s an interesting story. Buy him a drink and maybe he’ll tell it to you.”

So the man walks over and introduces himself and offers to buy a round. The guy with the big orange head says, “Yeah, I’ll bet you want to know the story, huh?” To which the man replies, “Sure, if you don’t mind.”

The man with the big orange head sighs and says, “You know, I’ve gone over it in my mind a million times. Basically, it’s like this: I was walking along the beach one day, when I stubbed my toe on something. I looked down, and there was an antique brass lamp. I picked it up and dusted it off a little — when all of a sudden this enormous genie pops out!

“The genie thundered, ‘You have released me from my ten-thousand year imprisonment, and I am in your debt. I will grant you three wishes as a token of my gratitude.’

The man at the bar is agape. The guy with the big orange head continues: “So I said, ‘Wow, okay. Well, my first wish is to be fantastically wealthy.’

“The genie says, ‘Your wish is granted.’ And all of a sudden I have rings on my fingers and a crown on my head, and my wallet is full of money and a dozen ATM cards and the deed to a mansion in the hills — I mean, I was loaded!

“So I said, ‘Amazing! Okay, for my next wish , I want to be married to the most beautiful woman in the world.’

“The genie says, ‘Your wish is granted.’ And the ocean parts, and out walks this gorgeous woman in this beautiful dress, and she takes my hand and we fall in love and the genie marries us right there. It was incredible.

“The genie booms, ‘You have one wish remaining.'”

The man with the big orange head pauses and sips his beer. He says, “Now, you know, this may be where I went wrong. I wished for a big orange head.

I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead

I’ve learned one major thing about babies in my fives weeks of being a dad: they give zero shits about how tired you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 A.M. and there is a microbiology lab practical that you have to take the next day, they are not going to stop yelling until their diapers are changed and their bellies are full. Honestly though, I can’t say that I blame them. Complete lack of control of my bodily and motor functions would probably make me a little temperamental too.

My new hobby is taking consecutive pictures of my daughter while she wiggles around on the couch. It’s a little game I play, trying to get the funniest/cutest pictures I can in one sitting. Here’s a couple of gems that I got yesterday:




What a cutie, right? I’m pretty sure she’ll be glad I took these when she’s in her teens.

One Man and a Baby

Dear Reader,

Two weeks into being a dad I am about as tired as I’ve ever been. It’s no joke. The baby seems to have decided she is a nightowl which means that mom and dad are nightowls too. Being up super late is a little taxing because I need to, you know, sleep every now and then. I haven’t been this tired since I was in Army Basic Training, which is really saying something because sleep deprivation was kind of the whole point. Tonight is no exception either. She woke up around one o’clock this morning and after a sip at the boob she’s was alternating between sleeping and making a fuss until about ten minutes ago. Thankfully she’s konked out now, curled up against my chest and making her cute baby sleep noises while my wife is on the futon in the living room getting some shut-eye before it’s time to feed this little eating machine again.

Setting aside the soul draining sleep deprivation, having this little munchkin has been pretty badass. Just looking at her trips me out as I can totally see myself in her face and gigantic feet. I’m getting to know her, to be able to tell how she feels by how she behaves. When something bugs her she transforms into a kung-fu master, kicking and punching the air like she’s reenacting a scene from Fists of Fury. What’s more, interacting with her is giving me a bunch of writing ideas I’m going to play around with come August when I have a month off school. I don”t know if it’ll be anything good, but it’s better than the whopping nothing which is what I am writing now.

Anyways, it’s 5:30 now and I might as well get some studying done before I have to work. I can’t wait for the night when she sleeps a full eight hours.

Yours in constant fatigue,