A Common Complaint Part 1


I often recall my old days in medical school anatomy class when my patients ask me why they begin falling apart sometime after forty. If you don’t have the stomach for graphic description, go read this great recipe for jalapeno cheesecake http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/surprise-happy-ending-cheesecake-recipe/index.html .

But if you do then read on. I remember so clearly the first day we were “introduced” to our cadavers. It was so amazing on so many different levels, the first and most significant of which was simply the fact that we would now be dealing with human beings. No frogs or pigs. No comparative shark anatomy. Humans. It was a very serious day. Our anatomy professor, Dr. Daly, spoke with gravity regarding the grace of the donors. And our grace. We worked so intensely with those bodies for a year, they became like a part of our team. They had names. They had lives. Some had surgical scars; no appendices, no uterus,  cancer. Most were old, some young. My cadaver, having worn a V-necked t-shirt almost every day of his life, had perfect tan lines on his arms and upper chest. We were allowed a little information regarding our cadavers; no names, just information.

Mine had indeed, been a farmer. He looked old. His tissues were yellowed and hard. Now keep in mind that any corpse preserved in formalin has a degree of yellowing and plasticity to their fat, muscle and organs. But there was a difference in the quality of the soft tissues between one body and another; no different than in life. And the older bodies had hard, thin, yellowed tendons.

One of the groups in our class had the cadaver of a young woman who had committed suicide by cutting her wrists. I think they prefer not to use suicide victims in general but there isn’t a surplus of cadavers and sometimes it can’t be avoided. It was sad to contemplate and we did contemplate her circumstances, as we did for all of our cadavers.  Then we moved on with our dissections.

But the tissues of the young woman who had committed suicide stood out among all our other cadavers, most of whom had died more naturally during their “golden years.” Hers were softer, more pliable, more rubbery. Not as yellow. The difference was apparent, even in formalin.

And this should be self evident. But for some reason, in the contemplation of our own fragilities, it is not. Should the inside of your body, be any different than the outside. Do we not see the gradual degradation of our skin when we look in the mirror? The same process is going on inside us. Remember “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

So what’s my point here? That…soon.



  1. Fall Prevention; Part 6 | Dr. Barbara Bergin - July 22, 2012

    […] For more on stiffness and pain when going from bed or chair to standing, see my blog; A Common Complaint. http://drbarbarabergin.com/a-common-complaint/ […]

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