We all entered the museum with great enthusiasm and were shocked when the gravity of what we were seeing hit us all very hard and in different ways. One of the first forms is a human leg bone that had been broken. I had expected soup pot bones, smooth, bleached and shiny. This one looked like it had been well-scraped by a meticulous scavenger. I felt panic rise, maybe I had gotten myself into a little more than I was ready for. I peeked around the corner, frankly ill at ease as to what was to come. Brayden grabbed a hold of my hand tight and said, " This is interesting but really disgusting."
I look over to Avery and saw huge, silent, brave tears flowing down his face. He was deeply distressed by the exhibit but stayed with us all the way through - mostly hiding in corners but he made it. His heart is so tender and whenever he'd read about the different pathologies we were viewing (cancer, arthritis, emphysema) he humanized the display to what the person must have gone through on their path into the glass case.
We all did much better with the full body exhibits than the bits and pieces. Trenton, never one to be interested in anatomy, flitted from exhibit to exhibit, returning to regale us with fascinating facts. He was intent on getting every ounce of information and his excitement was contagious.
About half way through Avery came around and started enjoying himself. I made dozens of jokes about what we were seeing and once he was laughing he could absorb it all much better.
Then we got to the babies. Technically they were embryos and fetuses but they looked like babies to me. Beautiful little things with lots of hair and eyelashes. I can never go in those displays and the kids know it completely wigs me out. But looking over at how strong Avery was being I didn't feel like I would be much of a parent if I gave into to my fears and fled. So I went in. When I saw the 28 week old I was overcome with memories of having pre-term labor with Avery. Being dilated to four centimeters, contracting and praying he'd stay inside a few more weeks. The 36 week old made me question why Avery was so healthy and this precious little one was not. I wondered what circumstances would bring grieving parents to donate their deceased child to science and if they ever came to the display. Did they touch the hair and the little feet and wonder why their baby died?
That was the hardest part and from there it was smooth sledding for all of us; we started enjoying the really cool exhibits and shook off our discomfort.
One of the highlights was the pace maker and stint section. We learned all about heart attacks and aneurisms and then looked at the pace makers and temporary defibrillators. I was explaining my Nana's pace maker experiences to the boys when the man next to us struck up a conversation and unbuttoned his shirt to show us the metal disc in his chest. He pushed on it and it moved around - impressing us all. My Nana could do that so I thought it was a trick all grandparents did. It was neat seeing it through new eyes.
Mortality was ever present as we looked at the different pathologies. Breast cancer left an impression on me and Chris seemed intrigued by the display of artificial hips, pinned knees, repaired rotator cuffs etc. He commented later that seeing all the worn out body parts was sobering. I hurt looking at the diseased spines and wondered where mine would fit in the flow of the display cases. The spine with scoliosis was especially difficult - I can't imagine what that man's body went through during his time on earth.
Down stairs was the grand finale portion where there was a camel and her baby, many full figures and several full body slices. We loved the skier and the gymnasts although the girl on the balance beams made me a little ill when I saw her hair pulled back with bobby pins just like you do in dance. It was so haphazard - like an athlete training and the imperfection of it got to me. Avery slid his hand in mine and said, " You don't like the ones with hair. Eyelashes, eyebrows - that. It bothers you. Me too."
The camel looked like something from Hoth in Star Wars and Avery and I thought the baby, even without his fur, was absolutely adorable. Brayden was completely freaked out and thought it "wrong" to display something so intimately with it's insides showing. I pointed out that we'd just spent two hours looking at humans with their insides showing but he holds that a cuddly animal is different.
The obesity exhibit held Chris and my attention more than any other. It is a 5 to 8 mm slice through the middle(ish) of a lady who weighed 300 pounds. At first it's hard to make much of this five foot long blob, then the brain becomes obvious and bit by bit you make sense of what you are seeing all the way down to her bruised, diabetic heel. I learned so much standing there. I was under the erroneous impression that you get fat on the outside, just under the skin, and it forces your body to work harder carrying you around. Not true. You get fat all over. Her abdomen was riddled with fat between all of her organs. That can't be good! If I wasn't already committed to a healthy lifestyle that would have done it. As a group we left with the strong desire to eat well, never smoke and take care of our parts.
* When we saw our first meaty rib cage we all thought of Good Wood Barbecue and how much that display looked like what we're served minus a healthy slathering of sauce. We were shocked by how much a human is also a piece of meat. Everyone commented at some point that if we weren't already vegans, last night would have made us ones.
* Avery and I couldn't stop laughing at the girls behind us who viewed incredible, awe-inspiring display after display and could only comment," OMG! You can see his balls!"
* There is a circulatory system strung out overhead along the ceiling. It was so christmas-red that we couldn't shake the thought that it was a few ornaments shy of a holiday decoration.
In the end, we all came away from the museum with an incredible appreciation for life and the glorious, beautiful, frail tragedy of it. To quote the book of Psalms, " I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
A few years back, Mary Roach's book Stiff was a great pleasure of mine. I wrote a poem about it and thought it applies to this post:
When my soul has left me
and I’m merely a cadaver
where will this journey take my flesh
while I lounge in the hereafter?
Once I have left this shell
should they soak my meat in honey;
one hundred years - then sell the cures
and eat my mellified mummy?
Shall I choose traditional internment,
to slowly molder and decay
as bacteria eats through guts and lung
and chews my skin away?
If that quiet resting place
is not my ideal destination
I could try something flashy
like total body plastination.
In case you aren’t familiar
-and many of us are not,
they steep your parts in silicone
and rubberize the lot.
Maybe I’ll give my body to science
for medical research.
but the thought of the anatomy lab-
it makes my stomach lurch!
The Swedes, so eco-friendly,
wish to make you into soil,
a composting material,
in which to plant and toil.
How about cremation?
Or burial at sea?
I hear that crabs love human flesh
- No! that won’t appeal to me.
It’s not often that I indulge myself
in anguished thought and pondering
of where to leave my vacant bones
when I am done my wandering.
Just mortality encroaches
-death is always a reality
and I can’t help but wonder
what to do when I am done with me.
____________ Written By Nicole Maki