Archive for June, 2007

Out of Order

June 24, 2007

I conceived this blog as a series of letters to my daughter, though I have occasionally had other readers in mind. They are pleasurable extensions into non-professional writing for me – true in as many details as I can manage; not fiction, but still tautened or skewed a little to make a point. Apparently, these essays (in the French sense of ‘attempts’) have offended too many of the characters herein, so I am compelled to stop using this blog as a diary.

To those I have offended (quite a variety, apparently – including my Japanese hosts, my sister-in-law, some English students, a fellow workshop organizer) I deeply apologize. I never expected that anyone would bother to read these verbose entries. Nor were they intended to offend – I was intent only on making jokes on myself, and reporting subjective experience – especially this spring as I traveled to far and so variably abroad.

Although I have the temptation to tell them to ‘change the channel’ if they do not like what they read, I have no wish to cause pain with these little exercises.

My unvarnished opinions will still appear on this site somewhere, but you will have to dig more deeply to find them. This blog will continue to receive what I hope will be less controversial and more homely entries. Tant pis.

Dirt on the Hands

June 24, 2007

Back home, it is good to have dirt on one’s citified hands:

The dark brown soil under the fingernails from weeding the raspberries
The grey silica dust coating the palm after rubbing the horses’ itchy faces
The smear of tawny shit from a sick rabbit’s rear end, held so Quan can administer care
The black in the whorls of the fingertips from changing the diesel oil
The dried salty green slime of seaweed from lifting the long-submerged mooring chains

Donor

June 24, 2007

Up until this month, even though I was an enthusiastic participant in dissections, I would never give my body to science for such a dissection.  My reason was not squeamishness about being cut up, or about jokes being made over my bowels, but about the process of embalming.

In embalming, your blood goes one way, and the rest of your tissues another, permeated by formalin instead.  I like my blood, regard it as an essential part of ‘me’ – actually, I specifically regard it as a big part of my emotional expression – and I am unwilling for this separation to occur.  We are very careful, in dissection, to make sure that all the tissue from any given body stays with that body for final cremation at the end of the dissection.  And yet a significant part of that person has already been drained away and sent elsewhere – the blood.

My will makes quite specific requests that I not be embalmed.  This is difficult to escape, as the powerful undertakers’ lobby has long since assured themselves of business by getting a law passed that no body can hang around for more than 48 hours without being embalmed, except under special circumstances.  That means, to avoid this awful procedure, I must be cremated within a couple of days of dying (which has become fine with me, though I would rather be buried to feed the earth without the benefit of either a box or fire).

It has always irked me that I was a willing recipient of the gift of body donation, and yet I was unwilling to do it myself, because of this irrational but deeply-held belief of wanting to keep my blood with me.  But now, I have an alternative: if I can be fresh-frozen, I am glad to offer what remains of me to such students as myself who might learn from them.

Fresh Frozen Person

June 24, 2007

I have been stuck, unable to add to this blog because I must write about this experience before I can move on to others, but its essence keeps escaping me, and its implications for my work are tremendous – fundamentally disturbing and exciting.

For the first time, I have been present for a dissection of a so-called ‘fresh tissue’ cadaver, which is essentially a fresh frozen person.  The glib comparison is the difference between tinned peas and fresh frozen peas – but this undersells the impact. Under the direction of Todd Garcia and the Laboratories of Anatomical Enlightenment in Denver, a group of us explored the Anatomy Trains with an unembalmed cadaver in June of this year.

The evidence of this exploration is featured or will appear elsewhere on this site; my purpose here is just to report the subjective experience.

I am accustomed to handling an embalmed cadaver, and can quite calmly explore the most intimate innards of another person in this state.  (Though I am not as sanguine about looking at my own blood – nearly passed out when I looked into my own finger that I attempted to chop off while making kindling in the dark – see the entry ‘Hatchet’ in Jan, 2007).  ‘Victoria’ (so we named her, and we felt quite close to her by the end) landed somewhere between these two experiences, and the juxtaposition was fundamentally disturbing.

A common word for embalmed tissue is ‘fixed’, and the precise difference in Victoria was she was unfixed.  Joints moved – a little sluggishly since she was constantly kept very cold, but they moved through the normal range.  The skin was supple, and moved on the underlying tissues.  With the blood present, her skin had normal hues, and, though incisions would not bleed like surgical ones, blood was present, and would pool under her sometimes.  Cutting through the skin was more rubbery and resilient than embalmed tissue, and the underlying muscles, fat, and fascia had normal coloring and normal responsiveness.

But oh, how much responsiveness there was!  Pull on the tissue – any tissue! – and an ‘anatomy train’ appears.  Take any tissue off the body and put it under the microscope Eric Root brought, and watch the structure that was evident on the body disappear into amorphous vacuoles and bubbles.  Put a new stretch on the tissue, and new structure appears – complete with lined up fibers and resistance.

Jeff Linn warned me against conflating anatomy with structure.  At the time, I dismissed the warning – anatomy is to structure what money is to love – maybe you can’t buy it, but it doesn’t hurt the process either.  Anatomy may not be structure, I thought, but it sure is a useful way in.

I still believe that, and will continue to insist that my students know their anatomy, but clearly structure is something that only occurs in context of the spatial tensegrity of the body.  In other words, you need the tensional and compressional forces to make the fascia / myofascia organize.  (Having written this, I say ‘of course, that’s what we’ve been saying all along, but to see it in action is a different experience.)

We were attempting to dissect out myofascial continuities, and the result were gloppy messes that looked (and by Friday were starting to smell) like flank steak.  Removed embalmed specimens are fairly stiff and could be draped over the classroom skeletons we use to photograph them.  The ‘real’ Anatomy Trains were so gloopy that they would immediately ooze off the skeleton unless held there with pins or hands.

The naturalness of the tissue, and its disconcerting lack of structure when removed from the body were bad enough, but the constant lifting of Victoria in and out of the freezer (under the knees and under the shoulders) emphasized her humanity, and the feeling of being somewhere between Hannibal Lector and Jeffrey Daumer persisted, actually growing through the week as the butcher-shop odor surpassed the formalin as a smell to be reckoned with.  Although it was a fantastic learning experience, this encounter with death – even in the same situation as many I have done before – a lab, the coats, the scalpels – was a quantum leap closer, and the hollow voice that says, “This way all men pass – even you, even your children” boomed hollow in my mind’s ear.

Many thanks to Todd, the staff, and all the students, but most of all to Victoria, who gave us such a gift.