A Frank (en) Storm Update.

Get it? Huh?

Hem. Anyway. I’m trapped up at school because the highways are closed, but unfortunately classes are cancelled until Wednesday (for now). My lab partner has graciously humored me and sent me the pictures of our dissection last week, so I’ve decided to give you all a little taste of the anatomy class we little mortuary majors have to take!

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS PICTURES OF ANIMAL ORGANS BEING DISSECTED. Also, a warning for people reading this blog who are serious about going to school for this: There is no opting out of dissections. There is no writing a paper instead of cutting into sheep brains. You have to. You’ve been warned.

Don’t touch me, I’m sterile.

Every group elected a “surgeon”. I was elected in my group, mostly because of my insane enthusiasm for slicing, but also kind of because one of my lab partners isn’t an MOS major and cutting up dead things makes her sad. (Sorry, Crystal, I love you and junk but you’re a baby.) This is me, dressed to dissect. That’s our eyeball there, in our tray. More on that later.

Ventral View of the Sheep Brain

This is our braaaaaaain. ..I’ve been watching a lot of Walking Dead lately. Our sheep brain was much smaller than expected.

Ventral View

There was a lot of spinal cord still attached. It’s really neat to dissect a brain that comes from a four-legged creature, because of the way that the spinal cord comes out of the back of the brain, as opposed to the bottom. This is, of course, because of the way that their spine is shaped and the location of the foramen magnum (am I impressing you yet?).

Cutting into the meninges!

Before we could make our midsagittal cut (slice it down the middle), we had to identify the three meninges. Meninges are, of course, the protective covering of the brain. They’re what get infected and inflamed when someone contracts meningitis. You can see we’ve started peeling back the outer layer, the “dura mater”, in this photo. Fun fact: my Latin training in high school made me the first person in class to shout, “THAT MEANS TOUGH MOTHER!” and make my teacher laugh. All the black, spidery, almost vein-looking things you see are the second layer of meninges, the arachnoid. Spider in Latin, of course. The last layer is adhered tightly to the brain and took some picking off with the dissecting needle. We didn’t have to pull the whole thing off, thankfully, but we managed to get a little and understand how tightly bound it is.

Inside the brain!

Here you can see all the major structures of the brain; cerebellum, pons, medulla oblongata (bonus points for you if you said that in the professor from Water Boy’s voice), corpus collosum, cerebrum, etc. ISN’T IT JUST THE NEATEST. I was really shocked to see that the white matter in the cerebellum really looked like that! I thought it was always just illustrated in text books, but no. Your cerebellum really looks like cauliflower. As a side note, did anyone ever catch that in the Power Puff Girls, the Mayor’s secretary was Sarah Bellum? I loved that.

Sheep eyeball (NOW WITH EYELASHES)

Our lab teacher handed us this eyeball and, after explaining that we got the one with the prettiest eyelashes because we’re his favorites, gave us frank instructions to leave the thing alone until he gave us specific details on how to dissect an eyeball.

The eyeball is not the soft, squishy ball of goo we all think it is. There’s actually a very tough outer layer to the eyeball that makes it pretty difficult to cut into (it’s called the sclera, for future reference). The eyeball is, in fact, filled with fluid. There’s a lot of pressure built up from the fluid inside the eye. Everyone not dissecting had to get on the other side of the room, and we all had to put on goggles and masks because when you pierce the eyeball with the dissecting needle, you’re relieving the pressure inside. What that means is: squirting eyeball juice. Our lab instructor told us that if we weren’t wearing masks to please keep our mouths firmly shut. No one’s eyeball actually shot vitreous humor that far, but there was a lot more in there than I expected. I had to trim a lot of the fat and skin away from the eye, which made it even tougher to cut open and inspect.

Transverse Cut Across Sclera/Cornea

You can juuuust see the cut I’ve made here. It took a few tries to get into the eye.

Lens and Iris

Here it is! The lens and iris! This is what focuses light so you can see whatever you’re looking at. Pretty neat stuff huh?

Since you’ve stayed along for the ride this long, let’s talk a little bit about dissecting and the experience as a whole. I’m not new to dissecting. In junior year of high school, more years ago than I’m comfortable admitting, I took an A&P course in which we dissected a cat. Sad, yes. But extremely fascinating. What I am new to is formaldehyde. We used a different preservative back in high school, one that smelled rather pleasantly of mint and disinfectant. Formaldehyde smells a lot like acetone nail polish remover, which is understandable, as they’re both in the aldehyde family of chemicals. However, there’s something about formaldehyde.. Ick. Just ick. I could feel it coming in through my mask and just coating my lungs and esophagus. I had just come from a funeral that day and I hadn’t had any time to eat, so I went in with an empty stomach, and even though I was so interested and enthusiastic, that smell just hit me off guard and I’m ashamed to say that I gagged and was extremely shaky throughout most of the dissection. Now I know better, of course, and I’m never going to go into a dissection on an empty stomach again.

Overall, I had a great experience. I’m naturally a very curious person, and getting to cut things open to see how they work? Priceless. It was just absolutely fascinating and so lovely to see. I’m sure that as I work more and more with chemicals like formaldehyde and other preservatives they’ll affect me less and less. In that vein, there’s a lot of controversy right now over using formaldehyde as a preservative in our dearly departed. A lot of people are opting for natural burials, in which no chemicals are used and the body is allowed to decompose naturally. There is a small sect of people in the death industry also pushing for this method of burial, but when I say “very small”, I mean very, very small. The funeral service industry is very staid, stuffy and traditional. Big changes don’t happen fast (see: Cremation). Many more in the industry are pushing to use an alternative to formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic and it’s recommended that pregnant women not handle it. As more and more women enter the field, it’s going to be extremely impractical if workers can’t embalm for nine months simply because they decide to have a child. However, most embalmers have stuck to their guns about the use of formaldehyde in their profession.

In even MORE exciting news, expounding from last week’s super exciting news, Caitlin Doughty (of Order of the Good Death/Ask a Mortician fame, for those of you who DON’T KNOW) has gotten into contact with me and we’ll be doing a little work together. Eeeeeep so exciting, I don’t even have words. Some time later, I’ll make the promised post about why I decided to go into the field and why this is SO EXCITING TO ME.

Stay safe, east coast deathlings!


More on natural burialThe Centre for Natural Burial
Green to the Grave
More on formaldehyde in embalmingDespite Risk, Embalmers Still Embrace Preservative – NY Times

All photos courtesy of Emily Cumming. Reposted with permission. Thanks babe!


~ by mementomorissa on October 30, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: