"It's just like a chicken." That was my first thought when I got a good look at the shoulder muscles and joints of a human body. They fit together very much the way a chicken's wing attaches to what would be its shoulder, if chickens had shoulders.
The comparison wasn't meant to be frivolous or disrespectful. It's just that I have more experience with chicken bodies than human bodies, having cut up quite a few chickens back before I got prosperous enough to mostly let the grocery store do it for me. (Which reminds me: our paper's food section yesterday featured a Community Education class on how to cut up a chicken. I can almost hear my grandmothers laughing themselves silly at the very idea.)
But I started out to talk about humans, not chickens. My knowledge of human bodies was expanded considerably this week by going to the Bodies Human exhibit that has been at our local mall for several weeks.
It's a display of real bodies and body parts, partially dissected and preserved through a process called "plastination." The idea may make you shudder. The reality, however, was awesome. The "eeew" factor was completely eclipsed by the "oooh" factor.
A kidney is much smaller than you might imagine. A heart looks a lot like the pump that it is. Lungs resemble sponges and are not nearly as tidy as most pictures show them. Muscles are layered over one another and connected in complex partnerships. Intricate networks of nerves and blood vessels thread across and through the muscles and bones. The human body is such an incredible, complicated, delicate machine that it's astonishing we work as well as we do.
I was lucky enough to see the exhibit in the company of my daughter the massage therapist, who is the family's resident expert on human anatomy. Her explanations added a great deal to the somewhat limited information that was printed with the displays. We weren't allowed to touch the exhibits, of course, so from time to time she demonstrated something on the nearest live human body—usually mine.
Actually, I noticed that all three of us who were there did the same thing. "Oh, that's the way the knee joint works," or, "That end right there is the funny bone in your elbow." And we'd be feeling our own bones or joints to compare them with what we were seeing.
The one drawback to the plastination process was that it made it harder to remember that the bodies were real, once-living human beings. The exhibits were prepared in a laboratory in Taiwan, where unclaimed bodies are often used for medical and scientific purposes. For that reason, I assume these people hadn't necessarily given permission for their bodies to travel here for the purpose of showing us their insides.
Nevertheless, I hope they might have approved. The opportunity to learn more about the miraculous inner workings of the human body was an amazing gift. I'm grateful to have been able to see it.