Monday, 3 June 2013

Visiting Body Worlds

My post-grad years were spent in the Anatomical Science Department at Wits Medical School and I developed a fascination for the 'morgue' section where bodies were prepped for dissection by medical students and part of bodies were plastinated for dissection demonstrations. You just never knew what you were going to find when you lifted up the lid of a deep-freeze chest.

The body is extraordinary.

Muscles, arteries and veins, specialised organs, nerves... My focus was developmental biology at the time so I get the big picture of genes turning on, signal cascades, cell division and specialisation... but I also don't get it because it really is quite overwhelming and incredible as to how I am as I am. Functional, sensory, tactile, mobile, cognitive... it really is remarkable.

And so I was delighted to visit the Body Worlds exhibition at Sci-Bono yesterday. I recall when Body Worlds was first on display abroad (there are various exhibitions now) many years ago - and now I got to see one of the exhibitions here.

A few things stood out that, for me, were missing:

How they plastinate the bodies. 
The process is on their .com website but it should be at the beginning of the exhibition. I explained to a few people how they plastinate the bodies and I heard a few children asking their parents whether the bodies where real. They are, but the water in the cells has been replaced with plastic (read about the plastination process here). Decomposition is halted and you're left with a preserved body.

How lifestyle affects your body
They have a display showing lungs - healthy lungs and those of a smoker. I heard more than one smoker (or smoker's friend) saying, "That's what my/your lungs must look like" and a few parents saying to their children "That's why you shouldn't smoke". Also healthy liver vs cirrhosis of the liver. These lifestyle-effect displays really make an impact.

They had a 'slice' on display from a porky person. Obese. The guy was 150kg at death and he died as a result of heart problems related to his weight. The slice showed fat around the organs and a belly that hung low but wasn't hard-hitting at all because it really was just a thin slice and you had to really look closely. A full-body plastination in cross-section would totally rock - positioned next to a normal weight plastination also in cross-section of sorts for comparison. I'm into being able to compare one to another - liver for liver, belly for belly.

I remember the med students not being too pleased if they got a fat body to dissect for the year because there was just so much fat to plough through to get to what they wanted to see.

History behind the people
I'm quite interested in the body donors and what happened to them that caused them to die.

There's a section on aging and how it really is the skin that shows our age. Quite rightly so. When you remove the skin and are just showing off the musculature, you can't tell how old the person is. I'd be keen to see a comparison between old musculature and young musculature. For sure, this would be lifestyle related which is why I'd like to see a fit and toned body vs a sedentary body of similar age. What do the bodies look like below the skin. Untoned muscles vs regularly used muscles.

They had a few sporty positioned plastinates -  a man holding a rugby ball, a guy jumping over a fence and a guy going over a high jump. Really, really well done.

Were these people sporty in life? How old were they when they died? The musculature is beautiful but is this just 'normal' musculature that when displayed looks sporty and defined (no fat or skin obscuring the muscles) or have they cleaned up a more sedentary body and when positioned in a sporty display it looks healthy and muscled?

Where are the women?
In the one section I was just thinking how there were so few female plastinates. I then overheard a woman saying to her partner, "These are all men". They definitely needed a female plastinate in this section to balance the gender scales.

I can't recall whether the first full plastinate (mostly showing skeleton and muscle attachments) was male or female... Then there was a bionic woman -  a full plastinate of a woman standing on a man's lap (sporty-like) who has had so much orthopedic surgery - plate in her wrist, hip replacement, a shoulder replacement (I think it was), a plate in her ankle... A very good one.

The woman coming "out of the rock" was superb too.

And then much later (after the all-male display) the plastinate that made me cringe... After the awesome displays of sporty men, we come to a woman positioned on a swing, one hand up (seductively?), legs apart... The purpose of this display was to show her abdomen with intestines removed to show the position of the uterus and fallopian tubes. She could have been standing and positioned like a strong and capable dancer rather than a tramp on a swing...

This really irritated me. Why not a female track athlete or a woman going over the high jump? Grrrr...

This aside, the exhibition is well worth a visit - if this kind of thing interests you (book your ticket online, for sure). The exhibition is still on until the end of June. It was packed with people and very crowded, but still totally worth seeing.

1 comment:

Staci said...

We are going this weekend. Thanks for the head-ups on what to look for.