My First Time With Cadavers

On Wednesday, we had a practical session which was an introduction to dissection. I never knew that even dental students had to deal with cadavers and study them as well.

It was absolutely repulsive.

The university has 10 India-imported bodies floating in two tanks(5 bodies in each tank) filled with formalin for the past four years in a store room behind the anatomy dissection hall. The bodies are in pieces and limbs are detached and floating in the murky brown formalin liquid. The colour of the liquid is no different from those of the dirtiest drain water.

You know, I thought I was brave. I tried to tell myself: This is science. It’s only science.

When the door to the storeroom opened, the strong foul smell of formalin rushed up my nostrils and I immediately reached for an extra facial mask. I stepped into the room with a few of my course mates. A few of us were grasping each other’s hands

The tank was about the size of the common water tank they have in the national service bathrooms. I mean it fits FIVE (dead)grown men! I peered into the tank and the immediate thought that came into my head was, “Ei, like pak cham kai(steamed
 chicken) like that.” Some of the skin on the face was still intact but it was peeling, revealing grey coloured muscles beneath. Some parts of the abdomen was exposed so that the intestines can be seen. Another body had its thoraxic cavity revealed. I could make out the now grey lungs. The top most cadaver still had the skin(you can still make out the native of the person who once owned that piece of skin) which covered his genitals and the dick was you know, still there. It was peeking out from the darkness of that yucky formalin liquid. Jimmy said, “Eh, don’t keep looking lah, later stand how?”. He peered closer and then he said, “Eh, quite big also ar!”

The scariest bit is seeing the skin tattered and peeled, hanging of whatever that’s left of the muscles. It was a sickly white. No different from the skin of the drumsticks that you fine in the supermarkets.

I couldn’t take it anymore because I knew if I looked at it any longer and continued inhaling the pungent formalin plus the imaginary stench of the cadavers, I’d probably puke my guts out. Pardon the pun.

Lydia was making gagging and retching noises the moment she ran out of the store room. She was not trying to be funny! I was on the verge of throwing up myself.

Then the caretaker opened a container and revealed chopped body parts. We saw an entire head amidst the other body parts and it was split right down the middle and it opens like a, well, a book. The caretaker lifted up the head and the cadaver’s disembodied head had its eyes closed as if deep in meditation and the caretaker said, “You’ll be learning a lot about the head. Especially the head.” Gulp.

He showed us one halve and we could see what was once a brain, now half of it and it consists of soft mass. We could even see half the tongue, the nasal cavity, eye sockets and other unidentifiable regions. The colour ranged from pale white, cream,
grey, brown and dark grey. When you put the two halves together and peer at its face, you’ll be damn freaked out because the skin is still intact. Even the ears were still there! The caretaker said we could even touch the parts if we wanted to! Oh my

We then lined up and put on some surgical gloves. Some of them wanted to touch it with their bare hands and yes, you can do that. Ughhh!! The first part which I prodded was the brains and it was soft and squishy. But not as disgusting as I thought.

Then another course mate, Andy, said, “You know the tongue can be extended to quite a great length?” and with that he pulled at the tongue and tried to extend it. I touched the tongue and it was still limp and soft. Ughh. Someone else flicked the
ears and it was almost as if the ears were made of rubber because it even gave a slight oscillation!! It’s still got bits of hair left on the ears and on the scalp. We flipped the head around so that the face was facing up. Harveen tried to pry open the cadaver’s eyes and HOW DO YOU KNOW?? IT STILL HAS EYEBALLS. ARGHHHHH!!! It was a sickly shade of translucent gray. Almost like the ones you see on those stale fishes in the marketplace.

Harveen checked out the rest of the body parts in the container. She found a hand and lifted it up, wanting to give it a shake, but got such a rude shock when the loose mass from inside the hand spilled out. UGHHH..UGHHH. I think I am going to
be sick again.

She did take some pictures of the parts with her handphone but I remember reading somewhere that taking pictures of cadavers is illegal and so, I’m sorry, there won’t be photos to be shared online.

To tell you the truth, I was afraid to be left alone downstairs back in the hostel because I kept seeing the loose skin hanging off from the cadaver’s body.

Maybe in time to come I’ll be able to maintain a more professional attitude towards cadavers.

But for now..UGHHHHHH!!! What an experience though!

Some pics of me fooling around in the dissection hall. None of the cadavers though!!

Me posing with our residential skeleton.

Lishen wants to too.

l-r: Cze-Yin, Ah Skeleton(English name is Skelly, must be said in a Hongkee slang), Me trying to have a quick one with Ah Skeleton.

Narjit literally rubbing shoulders with Ah Skeleton.

Ah Skeleton did not try to resist my attempts to make out with him.

Editted at 1.48pm: Would you believe it? I’m in the dissection hall now blogging from the computer there. I just touched the four year old cadaver mass with my barehands and damn the mouse feels sticky now. HAHAHA. EUGHHHHH!