Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

You are not allowed to photograph the cadavers.

And that is fine.

Working for a company that builds things means we sometimes get to visit what we're building. The company I work at is in the last few months of remodeling a science building at Portland State University, and today our on-site people hosted a tour. This is the first time I've gotten to visit an in-progress project of ours. We've kept the building open -- labs, classrooms, offices -- throughout the couple of years we've been in it. Meant that sometimes a lab had a temporary wall with students and professors working on one side and construction workers working on the other, and there were relatively few days where this arrangement didn't work.

Most of the building is in use now, including a room that had been a kitchen once upon a time and was now full of dozens of fish tanks, holding a particular species of fish that lives in small desert lakes -- lakes that come and go, so it's good that the species's eggs can go dormant and then start growing towards hatching when the small lakes form again. In other words, when the body of water is ready, so are these fish. Swim party!

Nice bit of ego-boo to hear the PSU people thank us for improving the building: it runs better, it's ventilated better, it even for the most part smells better -- the one big exception being a lab where marine animals that wash ashore on the northern Oregon Coast and the southwest Washington Coast are brought for necropsy and study. The staff people warned us that it would smell bad. It did. But braving the smell meant I got to see the top part of a young-adult sperm whale skull.

And that part of the tour was harder for me to handle than the part where I saw a human cadaver.

Jason, the PSU science professor who accompanied us for part of the tour, offered to let us take a side-trip if we wanted into the cadaver storage. More than half of the group took him up on it. We were filed into a (thank goodness) well-lit room, cooled but not uncomfortably so, with two long metal cabinets in the middle. Jason (I never got his name; still seems weird to me to refer to a professor by a first name, but I digress) opened one cabinet for us, showing the body of an older man wrapped head-to-toe in a sheet. It's wrapped so it doesn't dry out: there's constant air flow drawing air and the heavier-than-air fumes from the body's preservatives out of the room. He unwrapped enough to show us most of the body, even some brief glimpses of the body's face, one of the few parts of the body still with a lot of skin on it. "People usually don't want to see the face, or the hands," he said. He picked up and showed us some organs -- the chest had been cut so it could be opened much like a hatch. He could tell that the one lung that had not been removed from this body was not in good shape; same with the liver. He pointed out details of the heart. Another detail he mentioned that surprised me: the human neck has about 50 muscles.

I didn't look too closely at the face, but I did brave looking at the hands, as well as the bone and muscle structure of the arms. Neat. One heck of a machine, a human body, even when it's dead and not a machine anymore. And I was able to handle looking at it.

I guess the next big test of whether I'm still handling it will be when I next eat fried chicken.

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