Anatomy lesson at PLOS

You can’t learn anatomy from a book.

For a while I’ve been wanting to write about anatomy lessons and the use of human cadavers. Throughout that same period, I’ve been struggling with this story. How to approach it?

Meanwhile, my sister and I visited the Mutter Museum and its medical oddities. The early drawings of human anatomy from the 18th and 19th century strike me more as art than science.

Like this:


An absurd rendition of a human skeleton next to a rhino, because why not. Via Drawing Seeing.

So I wrote the story about cadavers, and and based it on personal experience. I had extra encouragement by mentor George Johnson, and finally published it on Sci-Ed PLOS blog:

It was a typical muggy day on a tropical summer afternoon. I walk down the stairs, straight to the basement. The building’s architecture follows the Portuguese Colonial style. There is no air conditioning, despite the 90 degree heat. The strong smell of formaldehyde is the first thing to notice. It is everywhere, even in the hallway and stairs. I’m used to it by now and it doesn’t bother me, not nearly as much as the humid heat. The smell changes with the weather though, and becomes much more aggressive in that AC-deprived Brazilian basement. I walk the hallway until I get to the last door on the right. Waiting inside are a few classmates, and our subject of study, which lies atop aluminum tables covered with white sheets.

Continue reading after the jump…

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