Cadavers used to scare sophomore, but not anymore

December 12, 2012 — by Michelle Leung

Michelle Leung

The unit I remember most from ninth-grade Biology class with Mrs. Nicholson was the pig dissection.

The unit I remember most from ninth-grade Biology class with Mrs. Nicholson was the pig dissection.

Although the thought of cutting into flesh of any type was disturbing, the actual class really reinforced the names and functions of living systems. 

Because of the exciting pig dissection, I took a plunge recently and decided to sign up for a Stanford Splash! program that offered a lesson on organ systems.

Twice a year, students at Stanford University host the Splash! program on campus grounds. For only $40, attendees can select as many classes as they desire during the two days of the program. Each course allows students to try something different, from courtroom debate to belly dancing for beginners to artificial intelligence.

Students also meet other students from all around the Bay Area. One professor claimed he flew all the way from Chicago for the program.

Over the weekend of Nov. 3, my brother, his friend and I attended Splash!.

This time, the class that stood out most to me was Introduction to the Human Body. We learned from real cadavers.

A group of five instructors took about 20 students to a science building far from the main meeting point.

The classroom we went to was located down in the basement of the science building. Naturally, the first thing I noticed was the smell of the formaldehyde. The body bags also stood out. Apparently, a lot of people donated their bodies to science.

The instructors held a moment of silence before we went in for the sacrifice of those people. They also explained several rules involving proper respect.

The bodies we examined were from the university’s actual anatomy classes, of which our instructors were students.

They organized the class into four stations at four different cadavers. The first station demonstrated the human upper arm; the second explained the digestive system; the third showed the heart; the last examined the lungs.

Seeing the bodies for the first time was as disconcerting as cutting the pig had been. Pigs and humans looked remarkably alike in structure despite the huge outward difference.

However, after the initial shock, all of us were able to appreciate the educational gift. In fact, during the reflection we held afterwards, not one student regretted attending.

As we examined the bodies, the instructors named every part, and explained the way they worked together. For example, we saw the different muscles  and bones in the arm, and how they work together to move. We also learned about the many structures that can malfunction, and the diseases that can result.

Halfway through the class, instructors passed around a muscular human heart, a heavy liver and two spongy lungs. Some medical student had already made cuts in the atria and ventricles of the heart, so I could see right through.

The human body is surprisingly fragile. Like one of the instructors said, “It’s hard to believe we are still alive, with all the things that could go wrong.”

Seeing real bodies was unnerving the first time, but like the pig dissection, it was a really valuable experience. I realize that the body requires a lot of care in order to function to its fullest capability. I appreciate the education the Splash! program provided. But most of all, I admire the courage and vision of those people who sacrificed their bodies to education.

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