Appreciation: First Time Cadaver Experience

As a Nursing student we all have unique learning opportunities at different times and we sometimes don’t get to share the same experiences. Today, I was privileged enough to take part in a Cadaver lab. Cadavers are human bodies that are donated to science by the individuals prior to their death. -In this case, each individual came to the program and agreed to be of benefit to the education of future students-

As I walked into the Medical Sciences building and went up the elevator, the worry and excitement hit me all at once. The worry stemmed from this being the first exposure I have had to an embalmed human body. I was excited because I knew that I was walking into a very unique opportunity that would allow me to solidify my understanding of Anatomy.

The lights in the room were so bright. Almost like a big, white, cold OR. There were multiple tables with containers, and body parts covered in cloth. Everyone was quiet as we looked around wide-eyed. An eye-opening experience, literally.

The first thing anyone should prepare for is the smell. The chemicals used to embalm the body give off a strong scent that may be difficult for some individuals to handle (make sure you eat!). We were each told to put on aprons and a pair of gloves. As I tied the apron around my waist, my heart began to pound at the sight of the many “stations.” There was a heart station, a brain station, a thorax station, a pelvic station, etc. My first stop? The heart. I approached the table with a few other students, and we created a perfect circle around the table. We all stared in awe. The Doctor picked the heart up and began pointing out the various areas. As she was speaking she looked at us and said “feel.” I was the first person to her right so she grabbbed my hand and led it to touch the heart. I was the first to touch it.

I was most surprised by the colour and firmness of the tissue. I’m not sure what exactly I expected but it definitely felt weird to hold a heart and imagine it once beating. This is when my instructor started to make food analogies 😩😭 This lab is NOT for the faint hearted, or the light headed.

As we moved from table to table, learning more and more, the lab became this amazing learning experience. I felt a “click” go off in my head, as I touched and looked at everything. Seeing arteries up close, accurate sizes, organs in relation to each other, the “flower-like” appearance of the intestines. It was all so amazing.

There were two parts that I believe impacted me most, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of appreciation: the face and the brain.

The face: This was the most difficult on my stomach, because it was the hardest for me to desensitize. The face we examined had been cut in half to expose the different components inside and I noticed every detail. The shape of the nose, the mouth, whether the person who donated their body was female or male, the shape and size of the tongue from the inside, the freckles, the eyelashes.

The eyelashes. I looked at the eyelashes, grateful that this person signed a paper willingly donating their body to Science so that students like myself can further their knowledge. I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation and respect for the entire lab.

The Brain: The last stop was the brain. “This is it. It’s everything that makes us who we are.” Everyone was quiet as the Doctor pointed out different areas of the brain, and she handed one for us to pass around. When it got to me, I picked it up and realized it was heavier than I had imagined. Quite dense. There was also one brain sectioned into two parts so that the internal components were visible. As I looked at the Cerebellum, I heard someone say “wow that’s beautiful.” And I thought “Exactly. So beautiful.” I’ll be the first to say how surprised I am that I was even able to think something like that. But, the detail in each area of our bodies really is so beautiful.

The human body is amazing. The detail and complexity involved in even the smallest of thoughts/actions is so amazing. It’s a difficult feeling to describe, but following this experience I felt so refreshed, empowered and appreciative.

If you are ever lucky enough to receive this experience, make the most of it. Ask questions, feel everything, note the size and location of each part in relation to another. You will walk out of it feeling accomplished, appreciative and ready to take on your role as a Healthcare Professional ❤



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