Saturday, February 18, 2006

It's ok -- he's already dead

I've not fully processed this afternoon's experience, so this is more an assemblage of impressions.

We worked with five cadavers. They were already dissected. All old people -- 70s or 80s.

Formaldehyde has a sweetish smell. It penetrates everything -- clothes, notebook, my sinus cavities. When I got home and ate something, I discovered that it had bound to the moisture at the back of my throat. Blech.

Formaldehyde turns all the flesh a sort of muted tan-grey color.

Amazing things: how large the chest cavity is, once the organs are removed; how large the spinal muscles (longissimus dorsi, psoas, etc.) are; how complicated the musculature of the neck is; how much muscle lies along the back of the neck; how many nerves extend through the abdominal organs; that the pituitary gland is really at the brow chakra, just behind the sinuses; how large the salivary glands are; how small the brain is; how intricate the tissue inside the heart ventricles is, and how it affects the fluid dynamics of blood flow; the round, smooth knob at the top of the femur fitting into the socket at the pelvis; that everything is really ONE until we decide to separate it to talk about the pieces; how similar cadavers and those of us examining cadavers; the potential for way more body awareness than I have at present; the weird sense I have now of eating meat; how similar the structure of a cadaver and the chickens that I routinely roast, butcher, and turn into sandwiches and soup; the indecipherable relationship between life and flesh; how intricate the device of a body; that eating is just running food through a series of processes; the generosity of those who donate their bodies to others' educations; how little of a body is bone; the aorta is enormous -- 1 1/2" in diameter; the kidneys are located in their own little containers that shift and move against the inside of the abdominal spine musculature; spinal discs are fatter than I thought; men and women aren't really all that different; skin is leather; one of the cadavers has gold fillings, one has no teeth at all; it's odd to look at a rhomboid muscle beneath a dissected trapezius and touch the analogous spot where I get knots in mine; how everyone in the mall this evening looked to me like meat; how inane TV is; how much more body there is beneath the skin; how the presenter went out of his way to accustom us to the place and the idea before he opened the tables holding the cadavers; how they are wrapped in damp towels; how much time he must spend reassembling the cadavers after dis-assembling them in each class -- sliding the skins back over the grey flesh of preserved organs; how much I value the group of people I am with for teacher training.

Perhaps I'll process some of that at some point. It surely is an experience that will continue to affect perception for some time to come.

One brief episode: Min and I are standing on opposite sides of a dissection table that holds about 5' of connected tissues, beginning with the tongue, running down the esophagus, the digestive system organs, the psoas musculature to which they are linked, that to the fascia of the hamstring, through the calf to the plantar fascia of the arch of the foot. We are discussing the extent to which some aspect of life continues after death. I'm dubious. We talk about the possible relationships between consciousness and flesh, whether it's a function of something about bodies, or independent of them. I believe that consciousness exists -- in me, in molecules, in the cosmos even after the last person dies -- and that I am a manifestation of that consciousness. Reincarnation? Perhaps, if it is understood to be a transformation from one assemblage of molecules into patterns that are aware into another assemblage. Any hope of continuity between lifetimes for a consciousness? I don't have any experiences to suggest so, but others seem to have.

I'm not crazy about second-hand epiphanies.