Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Book Review

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
By Mary Roach

I really enjoyed this book. Yes, there were some really gross parts, but the book was framed in humor. Lots of information my 12 year old son would call "disgustingly cool".

I learned that when you decide you’re going to “donate your body to science”, there are a lot of places you can end up. Your head could end up in a practice session for plastic surgeons. ( “Gosh, I couldn’t afford a nose job when I was alive, now I get one for free”). Or, I could end up in an anatomy lab where first year medical students learn there way around the human body. I guess the students are having memorial services for their cadavers these days. To thank them for services rendered. Or, my personal favorite and stomach-turner: you could end up being a resident on the “body farm” at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. This is a place where cadavers are left in all sorts of states, conditions etc to allow forensic experts to interpret a crime scene. So bodies are stuffed into car trunks, tossed into a pond, wrapped up in a Hefty trash bag, etc. Then they are “checked” periodically so time after death can be correlated with the events of decay: bloating, maggots (two kinds!!), liquefaction, etc. Fascinating. I was reading this on the bus one day and got a bit queasy. I’m sure it was the motion of the bus.

The book goes on to give juicy details about things I’ve always wondered about like but were kind of afraid to ask: how does embalming work, how long does it last, why is cremation on the increase, why might it soon be on the decrease (a new method can now be used to dissolve your body so you go down the drain. Really.) Then there’s the part about trying to communicate with freshly guillotined heads. One appeared to respond for a few seconds AFTER being separated from his body. This was back when people were trying to decide if the soul was in the brain or the heart. I think they were trying to prove that since the head “responded”, that’s where the soul resided, although one presumes it left a few seconds later. The book doesn’t say where it went. Or the Soviet scientist who was working on head transplants. Apparently successful with a dog, humans didn’t work out so well. I’m trying to imagine this dog in obedience class……….

All things considered (and this author considers a lot!), Stiff is a fascinating read with a lot of dark humor. If you want to prove you are tough, read it while you are eating. Bon appetit!


Suzy said...

I think you've been spending too much time around twelve year olds, by the level of the grossness factor in these two recent posts!

Actually, I've been (sort of) wanting to read this book since you told me about it. But I might have to skip some parts.

The head transplants remind me of "Mars Attacks".

2 kinds of maggots? Yum!

And sending your body down the drain? But Mr. Rogers expressly told me that I WON'T go down the drain!

Good posts, Chuck. I'm glad that you are settling into a rhythm with the new job.

poodledoc said...

Maybe I have been spending too much time with dead things. Tristan has visited my lab a couple of times, seen the eyeballs cut open, various dead things, the skull collection, etc. So, I'm the typical dad, trying to make my son happy. He did tell me the other day he wanted to be a veterinarian. I was surprised 'cause he's always said he didn't want to do that, which is fine by me. He said "No, daddy, I want to be a veterinarian like you (working with dead things like eyeballs and the like). I showed him the flesh-eating beetles at the vet school that are used to do the "cleaning" of bones for displays. He liked them. Should I be concerned?

Suzy said...

Those flesh eating beetles are weird. My bro-in-law likes to talk about the ones at Zoology. I like to bring students by the vet school to see the giraffe skeleton.

Say, have you ever heard the story of the rhinoceros buried at Picnic Point? I think it was before they had the flesh eating beetles, and needed to dispose of a dead rhino from the Zoo. They buried it on Picnic Point, but for some reason it didn't decompose...

And now, whenever there's a full moon ... oh my God, TONIGHT's the full moon ... I'm not scared of any zombie rhinoceros, I'm not scared, I'm not scmmmmmph ack hellllllp!!!

Suzy said...

Has said twelve year old seen the movie of the Zombeatles?