Revelations from the Dead

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The room was dark, illuminated only by the hall lights shining through the small door windows at each end of the room. The sweet sickly smell of formaldehyde filled the air, making me feel even more uncomfortable than I was already. Long rows of silver tables lined the sides of the room. On top of the tables lay human bodies… dead bodies, covered for the moment with blankets, their creepy silhouettes sending long shadows up the sides of the whitewashed walls. I shuddered as I walked forward, following Mai through the gross lab. “OK, I can do this”, I thought. “If she can do it, I can”. This room was the place where medical students learned the ins and outs of the human body; dissecting people donated to the university for just that purpose. She had wanted to show me this place for weeks, and last Wednesday I had reluctantly agreed.

We walked between the lines of bodies over to one near the center of the room. “Let me find the lights”, she said, momentarily leaving me alone, as she walked into the darkness. I scanned the room again. There were probably twenty or so tables stretching out on either side of me. I was surrounded by the dead. Thoughts of movies I had seen about zombies, their reanimated bodies throwing off their sheets, stiff arms held in front of them, moaning for the blood of the living, filled my head. “OK don’t freak yourself out”, I said to myself. “Calm down. It’s just dead people. ”

The lights shuddered on, their florescent bulbs slowly warming up until the room was bathed in light. “This place is kind of freaky”, I said to her. “Yeah, you get used to it” she replied moving toward the body assigned to her for dissection. She stood in front of the body and slowly pulled down the sheet, leaving his head still covered, but revealing the body of a man, his skin pale from the embalming process, chest cut down the center. At his feet were most of his internal organs, just sitting on the table, like they had accidently fallen out and were waiting to be gathered up by their owner. She washed her hands and put on some white sterile gloves. “This is his heart”, she said picking up one of the organs at his feet. It was a little bigger than I had imagined, a pale pinkish brown and roughly the size of a human fist. “Isn’t it cool?”

I was shocked. The fear of the dark, unknown, funny smelling room was gone. Now I was just incredibly curious. It was amazing. Someone’s heart that had beat in this man’s chest his whole life was being held in her small hands. “Wow… thats awesome. So…How does it work?” I asked. She pulled aside the flaps of skin that were covering his chest, pointing out the man’s funny naked lady tattoo on his upper chest in the process. His rib cage, which usually protected his most important organs, was gone. His lungs had also been removed, but you could still see most of his main arteries in his hollowed out chest cavity. You could also see his airway, which led down from his mouth and nose to where his lungs used to be. It wasn’t as gross looking as I thought it would be. Probably because he had been drained of all his blood. His insides were mostly just brown and dry looking, not the wet, animated thing you would find in the living.

She lowered the heart down into his chest. “This is where your heart is”, she said. When you breathe oxygen flows down this tube here into your lungs. When your heart beats blood flows into the arteries in your lungs where it picks up oxygen, it then flows back into your heart where the oxygenated blood is pumped throughout your whole body. Then it comes back around and the whole process starts over…It’s a little more complicated than that, but thats the basics.

“Thats awesome”, I said again in awe. She pulled out a couple more body parts and told me what they were and how they worked too: the lungs, the liver (his wasn’t looking so great…too much drinking probably) the spleen and appendix. To her amazement I was into it. I kept pointing and asking “What does that do?” She was happy to tell me.

I couldn’t believe how amazing the inside of a human body was. It made me want to get in better shape, to eat better, and exercise, to preserve the wonderful machinery inside of me. I could see why religious believers had described the body as god’s temple and invented a soul to explain its animation. In a way it made me long for my religious days, so I could easily explain away the bodies incredible complexity, it’s amazing inner workings that we’re mostly unconscious of during the day. Evolution seems all the more wonderful when looking inside of a person. How did our circulatory system develop? How about our complex brains? What an amazing piece of work the human body is. And how precious are our short lives. I’ve been all over the world, but that day in the gross lab I saw the most unbelievable thing I have seen in my whole life. I saw how complex, how stunning my own body, my own existence is, and I vowed to live my life to the fullest.

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