As part of my LMT program, I had the opportunity to visit the Albany Medical School Cadaver lab. I’ll admit, when I first heard about the opportunity, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go. After all, I thought I knew what the cadaver lab would be all about. Massive stench, bodies, lots of bloated and diseased organs…I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to walk in to this place.
BUT, one of my instructors gave us the whole lecture-”if you’re not sure, sign up and try to go. You never know how you’re going to react until you get there.”
She also reassured us that this was a really cool experience and that we were walking into a place that treated these cadavers with the utmost respect.
So, I signed my name on the sheet and decided that since a few others from my crew were heading there, I’d head there too.
Wednesday came and as the day wore on, I was getting more and more apprehensive about going. I didn’t know what I was thinking. It didn’t help that I had a few people icking at me and my mom questioning my very sanity in going to “look at dead people.”
But, I was determined. I was going to go to the lab and learn everything I could.
We all met in the medical school lobby and were greeted by the director of the gross anatomy program. He swiped us onto the elevator and over into the lab.
We had been warned to be on time, because we wouldn’t find and get into the lab without a student or the director. They weren’t kidding. This thing is locked down tight, for good reason.
We were greeted with the smell of formaldehyde. Seems that there was a fresh lab going on for the PA students. It was a jarring smell, and one I’ll never forget ever. We were given the standard introduction and asked to gown and glove up.
Ok. Not a problem there. I wasn’t planning to go full clothes with all of this stuff. One never knows what you’ll get on you. I really didn’t want my school clothes smelling like formaldehyde.
Entering was kinda sorta creepy. Seriously.
All “human” things were covered. Faces and hands were all draped unless it was an area that was dissected and being viewed.
I am so glad I didn’t see any faces. I didn’t think I could take it if I did.
We did see hands however.
What got me is something that I knew would be there, but didn’t really sink in until I saw the hands-
Yes, some of the hands had nail polish still on the nails.
Once I got past that (and that wasn’t even fully, even now), it was easy to look at these as a touchable, 3D textbook. It just became tissue to me. I know that sounds totally callous and wrong, but when you are focusing on identifying muscles and looking at nerves and all of that, you don’t even think of these as people. You know they’re people. You know they donated their bodies to science, but when you’re looking at just the palmar or dorsal interossi (those are the muscles that help you open and close your fingers), it doesn’t really seem like anything.
We moved from station to station, looking at different parts of the anatomy. I got to touch muscles and nerves that made things move and groove. I got my hands on things like the biceps, the triceps and even got to view the attachments. We even moved tendons to make fingers and toes move.
It was wild, it was amazing, it was kinda gross.
It was right up my alley.
We as massage students even got to teach the med students who were volunteering their time a thing or two. It was awesome how we all freely talked about parts, explained terms to each other, compared anatomy classes and programs and one even said “you know, I’ll be prescribing the drugs and sending them to you to work on their muscles. Lord love you guys!”
What will I take away from this? Lots of things.
First will be the cool (and sorta gross) things I did while I was there-
I got to hold a brain. A BRAIN! I flipped it over and marveled at where the cranial nerves enter and exit the brain, marveled at how accurate the drawings are of the brain in textbooks.
I got to touch, hold and manipulate a spinal cord, diaphragm, leg muscles and all sorts of other things. I got to put my hand in an AORTA. Seriously. I got to put my hand in an aorta. I touched lungs, a pancreas (because mine doesn’t work anymore..) and was able to identify things that made the med students go “WHOAH!”
One of my classmates and I got to remove a pacemaker from a cadaver. We asked about the tissue surrounding it, and they said “so, wanna cut into it? Want to pull on it?” We were all in, so we removed a pacemaker.
I also took away so many visuals. I know this sounds kinda gross, but seeing pictures in a book isn’t like seeing a cadaver and the real muscle, bone, nerve or other item. You truly have no idea how large some of our nerves are and how small the areas of our bones that they come out of are. It really is insane and amazing how the human body works, and that more things don’t go wrong with the body.
Lastly, I took away an amazing respect for the people and their families that donate their bodies to the cadaver program. What an amazing gift that takes a lot of thought and concern for the future generations of physicians and people like me-massage therapists- so we know what things look like and how to find them. If you really think about it, these people knew what they were signing up for. They knew that their bodies would be studied, taken apart and examined. I know this sounds insane, but I could hear them cheering when I examined their joints, their knee replacements (yes, there was one with a double knee replacement!) and when I got excited to see things I’d only read about.
What an evening. Seriously. What an evening. Something that I’ll never, ever forget…