Today I had the opportunity, in which few outside of the medical community can claim to have participated, to view a flayed human corpse. Of course one cannot really prepare for such an experience. It is overwhelming. Bain tells me that in every group of first-timers, there is one who faints. Perhaps our group was not of sufficient size to include one of these, or perhaps art students are already innoculated by the objectification of the human body, but no one fainted today.
This is not to say that the experience was completely without effect. There is a moment of initial revulsion when first casting your eyes upon the excessively denuded, though not completely skinned, cadaver. This was particularly true for us as the subject was not in the expected horizontal position, but had been hoisted into a vertical position with a winch and metal rigging, attached via metal posts in the ear canals. Basically the entire body was suspended by the base of the cranium.
There was an hour-long talk in which many of the muscles groups were pointed out. Then we all put on latex gloves and were allowed to palpate the corpse for ourselves. There are so many feelings when one touches a deceased body. Even though you know that the body will be cold there is an unholy chill whe you first touch it. There is a bit of horror to the scene, particularly when small details of familar surface parts are juxtaposed next to unfamilar internal ones. And there is an amazing amount of beauty. Even in death, it is incredible to see how amazing the body is. Being able to see how muscles seamlessly turn into tendons is unforgettable. Watching the way muscle-groups interact and gracefully roll over each other is magical.
Then there is the smell. I had been told to prepare for that, but there is no preparing. What was surprising to me is that it is not a constant pervasive odor, but occurs intermittantly. One will be happily separating the semi-membranosis from the semi-tendonosis, when the stench slaps you across the face. Turn away and catch your breath, and the smell is gone. I have been told bodies that have not been enbalmed are significantly more noisome. I can’t even imagine.
It was a fascinating experience, though I was surprised to find that I was throughly exhausted after only three hours of work. I shall never look at a raw turkey leg the same way again.