Day 2 - Human Dissection in Phoenix

Second day of dissection completed! Today I went into the lab a lot more relaxed and confident that I wasn't gonna freak or/throw up/insert unpleasantness here. It was a gorgeous morning and the lawns on the way to the lab were freshly cut. The smell of summer. Can't wait til it's that time again! Moments like today's walk to the laboratory makes me appreciate life - sunshine, the smell of grass and excitement for the day.

We started with picking our cadavers up from the big, deep freezer and put them on their (now very bare) tummies. To make the tissue a bit more stretched out we propped the chest up on a couple of boards, that made the neck fall into a really nice flexed position.

The areas that I got to dissect and uncover today was the whole trapezius, lats, shoulder, arms, hands and scalp. We also got to witness some very skilled work by Todd Garcia himself, as he showed us the next steps, after getting rid of the skin and fat. The next level was separation of muscles within the fascia profunda, so basically breaking the protective layer that holds the muscles grouped together and then the fascia in between them. It was amazing to both be able to move the limbs with the fascia intact, and then with the fascia removed/broken. Apparently that's not something that you'd be able to do with an embalmed body, so I'm very happy that I got to dissect on fresh tissue.

There has been several good and memorable moments today, and I will try to describe them as well as possible...without getting too gory.

When we had uncovered the back we did movement testing (again) with the arms overhead, down etc, just like we would normally test shoulder blades on a client. It was really cool to see the shoulder blade "pop" into the latissimus dorsi when reaching overhead. It was like a nice perfect little pocket! The tissue moved beautifully together. This was a moment when you truly realize how much tight lats can inhibit shoulder blade and shoulder function. It is all connected, and it all needs to work.

If you've ever used a foam roller, you are probably familiar with something called the IT band. We got to separate that from the muscle layer, while still having the ends "in place". It's really broad, broader than you'd think, with the ability to stretch different ways. We did some movement testing on the legs too, and it was very fascinating to see both before removing the fascia/separating the IT band and after, what the movement looked like. We can just go home and forget about isolation (again) - it's simply not possible to isolate a muscle from its surrounding tissue! Not even when you manually isolate it with a scalpel can you do it.. When you see a body like this a lot of things make so much more sense.

The textbook isn't perfect - we've definitely seen that today. Five different cadavers, all with different looking structures and tissue. Not two were alike! And should we really expect them to? No, of course not. But the we must also remember to treat and work with each body, within its own frame and possibilities, rather than believe that the same frame is right for every person.


Something else that was extraordinary was the lumbar aponeurosis! (=big thick tendon). Wow! It was a nice shiny layer with fibers going over each other, in opposite directions, to accommodate for movement. Just looking at the size and placement of it makes you understand how crucial it must be for good function, as it connects upper and lower body. A dehydrated, unstretchy aponeurosis is probably not anything you'd want. It was interesting, because the different cadavers had different "looks" on the tissue, they weren't all beautiful, shiny or easy to "strip". Our cadaver was VERY difficult around the lower back, and we didn't get to see any of that nice tissue (the group is working on five cadavers in total).

I took a special interest in the hands and forearms, which I stripped and cleaned. This could actually have been the best thing all day! When bare, the forearm and hand is just simply amazing. We have a lot of tendons in the area and when doing the separations of the muscles in the area, it was possible to move the fingers, one by one, in flexion and extension by only pulling the muscle/tendon in the forearm. I also preserved the retinaculum that acts as a bracelet for the tendons to pass through as we move the hand. That too was beautiful. You could see the directions in the tissue, nice and shiny with some movement.

Do not read on if sensitive :)

Another memorable moment was when I pulled off the scalp and managed to keep the galea aponeurotica (=big thick head tendon) in place! The sound it made I'll probably remember forever. It was kinda like pulling a sheet apart, but smaller and relatively stronger material. I can't put the sound into words, but I shall remember it. The touch of the scalp tissue was so different from anything else on the body. It was like tiny little "blobs", like the structure on the ends of chicken bone, but soft! The muscles on the sides of the head could be kept intact and that too was really cool to see. I'm really looking forward to the last day, when we'll be dissecting the brain!

I'm glad to say that they still don't really smell that much, despite the decomposing.... But I'm sure that will change once we're removing intestines. The worst thing about dissecting actually doesn't have anything to do with the bodies. It's the cleaning up after!