First Time Dissecting a Cadaver

Before I jump right in- kindly note that it’s pronounced dis-section, and not di-(s)section. Literally the one thing I can recall from the intro to anatomy lecture from Freshers’ week.

Safe to say our very first dissection session was highly anticipated amongst my cohort. We’re currently learning about the thorax- part of the body between the neck and abdomen. At Imperial, we do full-body dissections rather than prosections. Each group consists of 10-11 students and we are assigned a cadaver per group for the whole of the anatomy course, which lasts into year 2. The dissections are done at our Charing Cross campus.

They started us off with a couple important rule reminders- place all personal belongings in lockers provided, shoes covering dorsals of our feet, long hair tied back, be respectful, etc. This was followed by a super informative presentation on how to put on and take off the gloves and protective gowns.

Not going to lie, I had a massive misconception about the whole experience. For some reason, I had ingrained in my head that the dissection room would be dark, cold and underground like in the films- but then I realise those are just mortuaries. Oops. The dissection room at Charing Cross is nothing close to that-it really is a pleasant environment for what it is.

Also, I can distinctly remember being told that loads of people leave the dissection room feeling… hungry? I haven’t really found that to be an issue, but I do find that the embalming chemicals (mix of formaldehyde and a couple others) smell alarmingly similar to turkey. My friend goes with pickled foods, though.

So getting down to business- we first unzipped the bag and positioned the resting piece of cloth to expose the area of the body which we would be working on. The face of all the cadavers are covered- for now. Our task was to make incisions in order to reflect the skin flaps of the thorax. This was to expose the ribs and intercostal muscle, followed by the removal of the anterior (front) section of the ribcage. To do so, we initially had to identify landmarks and trace out the lines which we would be making incisions along.

Non-medics + parents response when I describe what we do during dissection sessions.

The whole process was thoroughly guided- thank goodness. 
Some professionally dissected models could be found in the centre of the room for guidance.
FYI- you hold a scalpel like you would a pen, plus it has its own metal tray. Never pass a scalpel without the tray.

It really was an interesting thing to do. Sure I felt rather uneasy when I saw fluids seeping out at times, but I personally wouldn’t describe it as unnerving or too nauseating. Whereas on an emotional level, I suppose it could depend on your mindset going into it and how you approach it- whether you see the body in front of you as a cadaver or a person. As a rule of thumb, it may be good to acknowledge but not to go about it too deeply in thought.

If you have any apprehensions about this, I’d say try not to worry about it too much:) If it truly makes you uncomfortable, you’re definitely not required to be hands on in the dissection room and it is acceptable to just observe and provide moral support for your group mates.

Overall, it really is a fantastic learning experience for anatomy and there’s so much to be grateful for in terms of those who donated their bodies for our education.

Sending love and best wishes (as I cry over coursework)!
Alex (:

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