I See Dead People!

This week we visited Logan University of Chiropractic Cadaver Lab as part of our massage therapy training. To be honest I was debating if I needed or had the time to go – it was voluntary. I mean come on, I had all the necessary “book learn'in” from my Anatomy and Physiology classes! I knew what the stuff looked like inside and can name most of them. I signed up however and was committed. I’m so grateful I did. It was a transforming experience and one I will not forget. The visit transformed the way I look at my body, other bodies and especially my approach and technique with massage.

The thing that stood out the most and surprised me, was the way the university treated these cadavers. We first were seated in a class room adjacent to the lab. We were welcomed and introduced to how the visit will go. We were asked to leave all electronic equipment at our desk. The choices these individuals and families have made to give of what would be their final gift so I and hundreds others can learn from them was to be honored and respected. We were asked to refrain from silly remarks or jokes, avoid giving them names, taking pictures and anything else that would be disrespectful to them and their families. It was shared with us after their bodies deteriorated from time and use they were then either buried or cremated and if requested returned to their families after a brief ceremony from the school. It really set the tone for us before we entered this room. It was almost like entering a church or sanctuary; though we were not required to be quiet or worry about noise, I felt a sense of reverence and peace. Grateful and honored. It was a room of learning and willingness to understand the mysteries of the human body.

As we approached individual cadavers, we were treated with the experience of holding a human heart and brain in the palms of our hand, touching the muscles that support our feet and legs, feeling the thickness of our gluteus muscles and using my finger to delicately touch and follow along the huge sciatica nerve so many of us complain of. Most of these cadavers were donated to the school in their “seasoned” age. We examined their spines and saw the years of wear and tear they endured. Their aged bones and wrinkled skin almost told a story of joy and happiness, fear and pain, worry and endurance. I saw one who still had a little fingernail polish still on her fingernails – I wondered if purple was her favorite color or was it her spouses? I wondered if these magnificent bodies had a good life or a difficult one. I wanted to know more. What was interesting was that even though I knew absolutely nothing of any of these cadavers, I had no ill will or bad feelings towards any of them. In fact I felt honored to be in the same room with them. I felt respect and wanted to know more about them – in spite of any transgressions or choices they may have made while living. I wondered why can’t we; including myself – see others this way when it matters the most – while we are alive? Why does it take death to change our view?

The human body is incredible – there is nothing else like it. I am so humbled by these "silent teachers" who gave us their final gift. I wish I could thank each of them and their families for the opportunity to learn in this way.

I read a quote in my studies that I saved:

“Before you examine the body of a patient, be patient to learn his story. For once you learn his story, you will also come to know his body.” ― Suzy Kassem

This quote took on a whole new meaning after this experience. We are not just objects to be treated disrespectfully and carelessly. Our bodies are a miracle. They are amazing in function and form from the wondrous brain, to the heart all the way down to our living cells that have their own extremely important function. We should treat them with love and honor; with each other and especially with ourselves.

Thank you Dr. Dan and The Healing Arts Center for making the arrangements and organizing this event. Thank you Logan University and the two Logan students for giving the tour, and thank you to these silent teachers and their families for helping me and others better understand the human body.

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