I didn’t expect to feel much the day we met our cadaver. I took Anatomy in college, studied on a cadaver. I remembered that each day my heart would catch in my throat when I first glimpsed a skinless body from the door. But, one deep breath later, I saw Flexor Digiti Minimi, not someone’s finger.
I walk in the room. We unzip the bag. It’s a man. His legs, stomach and arms don't trouble me. Fingernails. Earlobes. Forehead wrinkles. It isn't passing. He still looked like he, not that. We gently wrap his hands, feet and head to preserve the delicate structures. I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t covering up the most “human-looking” parts of him to make it easier for us to begin cutting into him.
This man lays before me, a wonderland of learning. The pinnacle of biology, chemistry, physics, all wrapped up into what was…a life. I’m going to get to do something no lay person gets to. I get to look inside. I get to see how it works. Touch it, feel it, look at the actual inside of a human body. It’s amazing.
The first cut is the hardest. Piercing the skin seems violating. His outer shell now has this penetrable opening. Task at hand is removing the skin of the back. We’re trying to “find a plane” and not cut anything too important. Not a lot of time to feel how weird and gross it is that we are taking the skin off a person. Not until I close my eyes to go to sleep. The dreams aren’t upsetting, and that’s upsetting. It’s so matter-of-fact to visualize skin systematically removed.
By the second lab, removing skin isn’t a big deal. It’s a hassle, and we are flying through it.
Third lab, we are dissecting his Axilla and Cubital Fossa. I don't have any idea where that is. The armpit. Why can't they just say armpit? To get to his armpit and visualize his Brachial Plexus, we have to put a rope around his wrist and tie it to the post at the head of the table. I'm holding his hand as I'm awkwardly trying to tie up his wrist. It feels good and strange all at once. I drop my tweezers and as I bend over to pick them up, his hand slips into my scrub pocket. I jump, and laugh and the whole thing is just so weird. How am I supposed to feel about a dead man's hand in your pocket?
The experience of lab feels increasingly normal. Ron has to remind me to take off my scrubs before I come in the kitchen because I don't notice the smell anymore. I don't know his name. We've taken to calling him "our guy." Officially he's Pod 1, Table 1, but by the time we've reflected his biceps brachii, it seems like he's ours.