07 June 2011

in the cadaver lab

This is the beginning a piece for my writing class I'm taking this summer. Just the intro here, and after reading this, you may think, 'Good Lord, Kamiah, just where do you think you're going with this?'

Come back tomorrow and find out...!


It isn't so much the smell of a cadaver lab that gets me, and there's a simple reason why: it quite often smells like a barbecue. I hope this isn't too much detail for you, but if it is, you should probably skip ahead.

The cadaver labs I've been to—all focused on spine surgery because my company runs trainings for spine surgeons—have all smelled like a summertime cookout. Not so much the smell of fresh cut grass baking in the humidity or the smell of mosquito repellent: those are cookout smells, too, but I mean the smell of the meat on the grill.

A hamburger sizzling away, fat dripping on the coals, smells a lot like a cadaver lab, and I should probably stop here before you think I'm a cannibal. I am not a cannibal, which is an idea I never thought I'd need to stress forcefully, but here I am doing it again: I am not a cannibal.

Also, you may never want to invite me to a barbecue after this.

No, it isn't the smell of a cadaver lab that gets me; it's the noise.

The spine surgery labs I've been to are as noisy as a kitchen remodel.

And while the kitchen is under construction, the family is grilling all its meals—all involving meat—out on the patio: there, now you can, in intense detail, envision a cadaver lab.

Such drilling and pounding and ratcheting and sawing, but the noise that gets me the most is the hammering. Tap-tap-tap-tap with these mallets that are, perhaps, better suited to staking down a tent so that it doesn't blow away with you in it during a thunderstorm.

The first time I stepped in a cadaver lab and heard this hammering, I thought, 'Is this some sort of combo training? Is it for surgeons who want to learn how to take out an intervertebral disc and how to build a shed, all in the same afternoon?'

And then I thought, after realizing that surgeons would probably just hire someone to build a shed for them, 'Is something broken in this room? Did some sort of load-bearing wall crack or did a pipe rupture, necessitating a handyman visit?'

But no. That was just the sound of spine surgery, and once I got used to the hammering and the sawing—and once I pushed down my inexplicable desire for a hamburger—it hit me that something was broken in the room.

The bodies.


  1. Kamiah, I must say that although I've only been around cadavers and cadaver labs a few times, I have NEVER noticed a BBQ smell. In fact, it is usually a sickeningly sweet smell so thick that it's hard to even walk through. WOOF. Of course, the experience is made worse by the fact that whatever smell I smell has likely evaporated off of a body. The mechanical sounds would be intimidating.

  2. Ashley, the mechanical sounds are frightening. And I think your next cadaver lab experience should be a spine surgery one...!

    Nice smell description there, by the way -- mixed with the realization that the smells in the lab are coming off the bodies. Yikes.

  3. Alas, I passed out the second to last time, so I think the spine lab would be enough to end me. :-)



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