Apr 12, 2017

Posted by in School of Massage Therapy | 0 Comments

Cadaver Lab: A Unique Experience thanks to School


Tonight I had the opportunity after classes to travel to a local medical college and view a cadaver lab. The experience is not a mandatory part of the program, but it is highly recommended because it does allow us to get a deeper look and understanding as to what we are dealing with when it comes to the human body, as massage therapists. I also happen to be someone who has always found this sort of thing interesting, being the gross person that I am, so I was immediately on-board with this idea.

Before I get into all the gross but fascinating things, let me tell a little about how a cadaver lab works, since I’m sure the idea can be off-putting to some. Cadaver labs are formed with donated bodies. People register to donate their body to medical instruction the same way they register to be an organ donor, essentially. So all the bodies that the medical students are working on were donated knowingly and willingly. The people who donated their bodies were not tragic deaths. They are typically elderly upon death, so you’re also not looking at someone who did not lead a full life. The students will work on one body (to my understanding it’s a small group to a body) for their semester, and they will know who these people were. They know their name, their history, and who their family is. All bodies are treated with the utmost respect, and the only remarks that can be made about them must be medical. You essentially have to treat them like someone in your life who is important to you. So students work with them for a semester, and at the end of a semester they are cremated and a funeral is held. The students attend the funeral along with the family of the deceased, and the ashes are then returned to the family. From the time of death to the time of returning the ashes, the college covers all the costs. The college picks the body up, preps it for the use in the cadaver lab, covers the costs of cremation, and anything else associated with that. Having seen the bodies tonight near the end of the semester, I can honestly say there’s no way to avoid cremation. They’re not in the kind of shape that one would want to give back in a casket.

So I had the honor of learning from these medical students and cadavers tonight, and it was AMAZING. We all met in the lobby first, and were instructed as to how it all worked before we went upstairs in the elevator to the lab. Once in the lab you are greeted first with the smell, and then with the bodies. Mainly because the smell hits you first. I didn’t find the smell all that bad, it’s just extreme hospital smell to me, but others were not of the same opinion as I. However, I was expecting it to be on the level of rotting deer flesh (which I encountered tanning deer hides), so it’s not nearly that noxious which made it no big deal for me, I’m sure. Before you can even begin looking at the bodies closely though, you must don surgical scrubs (I think that’s what they’re called, they have the elastic on the sleeves, and tie in the back like a gown) and gloves. You can also use shoe booties and a surgical mask if you want, but that’s not required.

There are several stations that you rotate around with a partner, and med student(s) at each one tell you about the area they have exposed for you and what you’re looking at. By exposed, I mean that a good portion of the body was covered by gauze. So you could see that there was a body, but the only place you could really make out was where there wasn’t any gauze covering it. You get about 10min at each station, and then the signal to move on is given and away you go. While you’re there though, you can touch and ask questions, so I was excited. My partner was a few shades of green, and I felt a little bad… but only a little. We all had the option to leave at any time we felt necessary, so she was not being forced to stay. But I know I was being very zealous about the experience, so hopefully I wasn’t part of the cause for her unease…

I really loved getting to put my hands on actual muscles and such. I was able to pull tendons to flex a hand, feel the sheer size of pectoralis major versus pectoralis minor, and look at the origins and insertions of all the muscles we’re learning about in Myology. I got to feel the difference between tendons and nerves, and even get my fingers down into some vertebrae to feel the spinal cord. I saw a hyoid bone in a body that had had its head amputated for the learning purposes. I held a heart that was dissected, and was able to look at all the different ventricles and such. I saw lungs, a liver, intestines, and even a gal bladder. None of these though compared to what I think was my shining moment…

Holding a human brain. I was able to pick up and hold one hemisphere of the human brain, and really look at it as all the meninges had been removed. So it was in its natural terracotta brown state, and it honestly felt like a block of clay. It was a moment of pride for me too, because I could locate the fold that splits the brain into the front and the back. I cannot remember right now what that’s called, but I’m still proud I could find it. There was also at this station a full brain still in the meninges, but had the dura and arachnoid matar pulled back so you could see the pia matar. Poking that felt more like the squish one would expect, but it did not jiggle like Jell-o. Along with the brain was a dissected spinal cord, opened up so you could see how the nerves ran. It’s amazing just how big nerves really are, and how small they can become. We were even able to see on the brain some of the cranial nerves.

The whole thing was really, really fascinating. I really got into it, and I mean really got into it. I had my face pretty close to the cadavers at times, because I wanted to see. I touched everything they’d let me touch, and asked any questions that came to mind. 10/10 would do this again in a heartbeat if it was an opportunity presented to me. I may even go again in the fall, but the bodies will be newer and not as dissected yet, so it will be a different experience. It will probably depend on what time allows.

In return for this experience (since it’s not a typical massage school one), one of the locations where we can go to do our community service requirement is to the medical college to give massage to the students. So my school and the medical college do an exchange, really. I think it’s a win-win all around, myself. So thankful that they do this! For me, personally, this was a very educational trip and I feel like I will understand my sciences even better. Hopefully my fellow students who chose to attend feel the same.

Finally, to clear up what might be a question, no it did not bother me (like I thought it might, I was open-minded about how I might actually experience this) that these were once living people. I was able to disassociate from that, in that I knew they volunteered for this while alive, and that the essence that made them who they were was no longer there. All I was looking at was a vessel that once held that essence, but the essence behind the person had already moved on. At least for me, that made the distinction. So I could be very objective about it. I know not everyone can be though, and that’s okay.

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