Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NY Noodling: The BODIES Exhibition


I WASN'T going to rush out and see this exhibition, given the $26 entry and the oversize, see-it-all-anyway technicolor psoters on bus shelters and bus sides. And then there was the controversy about the bodies being of Chinese prisoners exhumed without asking their permission first ...

But a surgeon friend, Dr Steve Chang, said it was "excellent - wish we'd had it at med school" and his colleague even offered to accompany me and provide a laparoscopic commentary, so how could I refuse?

The exhibition starts out modestly with a display of fairly unremarkable skeletons – we've all seen those in high school anatomy classes. Except these skeletons are shown playing football, doing hi-fives and striking other admittedly PG-rated poses, complete with ridiculous smiles on their faces, and staring eyeballs.

On this particular day, a no-holds-barred mitzvah (or what sounded like it) was in full swing upstairs, which ruined the potentially contemplative ambience.

"Don't worry, it gets quieter as you get further in," said a guide, tasked with stopping people from fainting, taking pictures (hence the death of shots in this post), pointing and saying "is that what you look like down there, mom?"

We ventured into the entrails of the exhibition, a series of interlocking chambers that get darker and spookier (like the descending colon, said Dr Steve).

"These are very well executed models, better than being in Med school," he said, adding that he could sense the smell of formalin once again assailing his nostrils.

"I swear, for a year as an intern you just couldn't get that smell out of your clothes, your hair, everything."

An invitation to quit smoking, with
blackened  shrunken lungs results in a bin 
full of EMPTY cigarette packets.
The most-talked about aspect of the show - second only to the lack of permission offered by the dead prisoners - concern the models with polymer injected into their veins and other tubular systems – the soft tissue dissolves away, leaving the pathways 'frozen in time' as an intricate, red-or-blue colored filagree. Even Dr Steve, head of a pulmonary critical care unit in New Jersey, acknowledged he'd not seen his life's work – the lungs – depicted in such a way.

I was shocked when, on viewing a pair of blackened lungs, Dr Steve commented that this was not so uncommon among non-smokers.

"Spend a few years in a big city like NYC and unfortunately that's what you look like inside."

I snuck a stealth shot at a clever prop (pictured) – a glass case that invited people to throw their cigarette packets in and quit smoking on the spot – if a pair of shrunken blackened lungs can't motivate you, what will?

We were amazed to see that the bin was full of EMPTY packets ... not one contained a single unsmoken fag.

"People are just using it as a trash can!" marveled Steve.

The most memorable find was a small glass case of teratomas.

What is a teratoma? Literally, a monstrous tumor, featuring skin, teeth and hair, that can appear in the most bizarre places in the body, like the womb, ovary, brain, or a cavity far from where it should be. Google Image it, but make sure you're not getting ready to go somewhere, because you'll be late.

The specimen – growing inside a sliced open ovary – had molars, rather than incisors, and some fine whiskers.

"Yep, they're grimly fascinating to every med student," said Steve.

We raced home and googled it, then sat transfixed all night at the roll of stark closeups on a University of Utah Med faculty site - well, they were all prefixed by http://library.med.utah.edu. Forget Alien – the real thing is far more compelling ...

My teen friend Hanna also pointed me to http://www.edheads.com where we were able to spend the rest of the evening performing an intricate knee surgery complete with jigs, hammers and a bucket of iodine - but no shrieks of agony - or did I have the sound turned down?

Who said stuff like this is just for kids?

1 comment:

this just in said...

Cool blog, Lynette! I saw this exhibit too. It was sooooo interesting. I remember looking up into the nostril cavity of one of the exhumed bodies and seeing nasal hairs! Or at least, they looked like nasal hairs...cartilage maybe?