Cadaver Lab Journal

Here you will find my experiences as I go through my 10-week cadaver lab course in order to continue on to my graduate classes. I’m sure that there will be highs and lows, curiosity, excitement, disgust, and gratitude all along the way. I will be posting about my experiences at least once a week. Please share with anyone YOU know might be going through a cadaver lab in the present, future, or even the past (or just other curious minds). Here’s to science!

Week 1: May 21 – 25

I have officially finished week 1 of gross anatomy. Only 9 more to go!

Gross Anatomy Week One

I must say, I’m not sure if I have ever been more overwhelmed than I was this week (and still am). We learn 1 unit a day and dissect 1-2 times a week. Don’t be fooled by the word “unit” though, that’s an entire area of the body covered with muscles, nerves, insertions, origins, blood supply, fibers, fascia, and so much more.

The first day I dissected was one of the most interesting and disgusting things that I have ever done. Let’s just say that all bodies are different and my cadaver had a little bit more fat than was desirable for dissection. On the first day I cut into the back and the back of the head, pulled back the skin, dug out all the fat, and finally got to the superficial back muscles.

I must add that this is an experience of a lifetime and I am so blessed to be able to learn and am thankful for each and every person who donates their body to science.

As the days went on, I got more and more comfortable with my cadaver and was able to start actually learning instead of just focusing on staying conscious. This will, by far, be the most difficult class I will ever take, but I have to believe that if God brought me to it, He will bring me through it.

Luckily we have 2 free tutoring sessions a week and are able to schedule more for a low cost if needed. I knew this class was going to be a lot of work, but I think I seriously underestimated how much I’d have to put into it.

AND now it’s time to be super vulnerable with y’all. I found out that 2 people from my program already had to leave for the summer and won’t be able to continue the program until they pass the class in summer of 2019. I may or may not have had a small freak-out where I ran to my room and immediately texted my boyfriend and mom about how scared I was for that to happen to me. Being scared is so easy sometimes, and letting fear take control of our life will get us absolutely nowhere. You can convince your mind of anything when you let fear take control.

Soo… right here, right now I’m going to take control of my summer by putting forth all the effort I possibly can without driving myself completely insane. There will be no sleepless nights or skipped meals, we must remind ourselves that we have to be healthy in order to succeed. 

Now, it’s time for me to go do some deep breathing exercises and get some good, rejuvenating sleep. Here’s to another hectic, but amazing, week.


Week 2 & 3: May 28 – June 8

Wow. As you saw in my previous post from week 1, gross anatomy has been keeping me busy! Between class, studying, dissections, and work, I feel like I only have extra time to sleep, eat, and watch the occasional Psych episode.

Last week was incredibly overwhelming. We had 2 lectures one day because we had a prosection instead of a dissection. (prosection: already dissected). Having 2 lectures in one day means DOUBLE the information that needs to be memorized for the exam which means DOUBLE the stress moving forward. Thankfully the past entire week was solely devoted to studying whenever possible.

We dissected the rest of the back, the chest up until the abdomen, and the neck. I was really nervous about dissecting the neck because the closer to the head we got, the more nervous I got. The head just makes it all the more real. Luckily after a few days of dissection and studying the neck, I am now alright with seeing the head and am getting more comfortable for further dissection, though of course the face will still be s struggle at first. I’m going to have to be okay with it by the end of June because thats when I have to dissect the eye out of the eye socket…

Then I spent 5 solid hours in exams yesterday and completed my first gross exam!!! Only 3 more exams to go & 7 more weeks, here we goooo!!!


Week 4 – 7 : June 11 – July 6

Wow, again. Wow.

I promise you that I had all the right intentions with this gross anatomy journal. I was planning on writing at the end of every single week with the experiences of the highs and lows of lab and life surrounding it, but that obviously has not happened.

This class is a LOT of work that should not be underestimated. It’s hard for me to even think back to what I did during week 4 and 5. It’s so hard, that I’m actually going to have to look at my syllabus to remember what week was what.

Week 4 and half of week 5 I dissected the lower neck, armpit area, arm, forearm, and hand. This was by far my favorite section so far. I thought that the arms and hands were incredibly interesting and I actually enjoyed learning about them and going into lab to study them! It’s so neat that you can pull on a tendon in the forearm and move a finger. It really makes you think more about how the body works like a machine that needs multiple parts in order to work correctly.

The later half of week 5 and all of week 6 was focused on the skull, face, and eye region. This was by far my least favorite section so far, and I assume it will always remain in last place. The face is really hard to disconnect yourself from. It makes the person seem fully human, which they are, but theres a certain amount of disconnectedness you need in order to dissect a human body. I had finally mastered this disconnectedness during the arm and hand sections, but when we hit the face I was full-out panic. Not only is the face incredibly human, it is also completely irrelevant. If I am ever cutting into someone’s face as an OT, then I am probably doing something wrong and won’t ever be a practicing OT again due to law suits and jail-time. And don’t even get me started about the eye and its muscles. Looking at the eye muscles from inside the skull and poking at the eye to see the muscles, an eye that is deflated and discolored by the way, is not a site that anyone should ever have to see.

Then on for week 7, this week, which is only half-way over. This week we dissected the pharynx, larynx, and tongue so far. Also gross- but not as bad as the eye because by now the entire skull is cut in half in a sagittal plane. It no longer seems human which makes studying a little bit easier now. Tomorrow and Friday I will be studying the abdomen, stomach, and intestines… and for some odd reason they throw in skinning the testicles tomorrow too. Let me just say, watch out guys… because every girl in gross anatomy is going to know how to do that by the end of the day tomorrow.

On that note, I need to leave for my tutoring session in the lab. 2 tests down, 2 to go. Phew.. Happy holiday!


End of week 7.

Today I dissected the peritoneal cavity – meaning the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, spleen, etc. Our lecture was 2 hours long and lab was 3. Usually lecture is 1 hour and lab is 2.. which if you do the math means that class alone was 2 hours longer than usual, not including tutoring and studying afterwards. It was a long day, but not only because of the length of time in the lab.

The body that we have for this exam (we switch bodies after each exam) is quite troubling. She has things that there shouldn’t be, or doesn’t have things that there should be, and she is so tiny that we can barely study the muscles because they’re all paper-thin and fused together. At the beginning of the course I was frustrated with the amount of fat the first body had, and now I’m wishing she had more.

For example, today we ran into a few difficulties. She had massive scar tissue surrounding her arteries which made them incredibly difficult to find. We had to have a professor come and help us find them, since we are usually not supposed to use scalpels when finding the arteries so that we don’t accidentally cut through them (since we don’t know where we are looking because this is the first time we’ve ever dissected a human body….) BUT the scar tissue was so thick that a scalpel was a must.

After exposing the arteries, we realized that something was wrong. (side note: most of the bodies are infused with latex which is exposed in the arteries) There was an explosion of latex inside the cavity which filled all of what would have been open space. One of the important arteries that we need to study exploded and latex went everywhere.. once again we had to have a professor come over and help us clear it out and figure out which artery exploded. So, these two things made it difficult to study because they weren’t how they should have been. This seems to have been the case the entire time we’ve had this body. Things just aren’t as they should be.. which makes learning them difficult as this body probably would have been better suited for a professional. But hey – it’s all about learning.

Now you’re probably wondering where the title of this post comes in. HERE! We were “appreciating” the small intestine (which actually looks huge) and noticed that the jejunum (first part of the small intestine) did not appear to have the coverings that it should. We asked our professor to come over again and she looked at it and said “hmm, that’s not right!” Oh great, here we go again…

It turns out that what should have been a smooth substance was actually rough and inconsistent. Answer: cancer sells. She had cancer cells all over part of her small intestine. I’ve always heard of cancer cells, as most of us unfortunately have, but I didn’t picture them to look like how they did. For some reason, in my head, I pictured cancer cells to be microscopic. They’re much bigger than I thought. Today I held cancer in my hand, and for the first time it clicked just how awful cancer is. Of course I thought it was awful before, but after having the reality of holding it in my hand the thought of it got so much worse. To think that the body can grow that inside of you, multiply, and take control is absolutely frightening. It gives the body so much power and makes us lose control.

Unfortunately this post isn’t ending on a happy note, but I must say that I am incredibly grateful for the body that I have been studying on. I’m glad she is no longer suffering from the pain that was inside her and that we get to study and see first-hand things that most people never get to study.


The Last Few Weeks:

The last few weeks of this class were awesome but incredibly stressful. I don’t have much to say considering I’m writing this much later. I will say that I spent my entire life those last few weeks studying my brains out. Overall I’m so thankful for the experience and I’ve learned more than I ever could have imagined!