I marked the end of summer with a visit to Science North to see the Canadian premiere of the Body Worlds Vital exhibit.
As you may know, the controversial exhibit showcases donated human cadavers preserved by way of a special plastination technique by world renowned German anatomist Gunther Von Hagens. Von Hagens developed his plastination technique in 1977 and initially used it as a tool to aid in medical instruction and later created the Body Worlds series of public exhibits; the first of which took place in Japan in 1995.
Mr. Von Hagens calls what he does “anatomy art” and insists it is “aesthetic and educational.” He maintains that the primary role of the exhibits is health education.
I did have an idea of what to expect at the exhibit. I remember being intrigued by the process of plastination back in 2005/2006 when the exhibit was taking place in Toronto and found myself spending hours poring over information found on the Internet.
I think my interest in anatomy stems back to the spring of 1986. It was while I was a high school student visiting my older sister at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia when a life-changing experience took place.
My sister’s roommate, a physiotherapy student, took me on a tour of the university, and sneaked me into the anatomy museum, used by medical students to study the human body. I was given an up-close-and-personal view of human bodies, dissected and displayed in formaldehyde-filled aquariums of various sizes.
I initially was shocked, seeing heads lined up on a shelf, eyes staring blankly at the wall in front of them; but after walking around and taking it all in, I realized how lucky the students were, to have actual specimens to work on and learn from.
When I returned home, I spoke to my mother in great detail about what I had seen. We discussed how, by people donating their bodies to science, medical students could learn hands on about how the body works, how various illnesses affect the body, etc., allowing health-care practitioners to make further advances in medical treatments and cures.
She told me that back when she was 11 years old in 1954, her dad died while fishing off a wharf at the age of 44 (my current age). He had, what she always believed, was a brain aneurism. In actuality, he died from a blood clot in the heart, which caused a heart attack and sudden death. (My older sister is now a Registered Nurse who takes an interest in our family’s geneology).
My mother explained that because so much was unknown about these things back then, the changes for survival were slim, whereas now, due to advancements in medicine, he may have survived.
The Body Worlds Vital exhibit did not disappoint; in fact, it was better than I could have imagined. The specimens were displayed in glass cases and were well-lit from all angles. The exhibit featured several full-body specimens; all posed differently, displaying the mystery of what lies under the skin.
There were displays featuring arteries, nerves, muscles and everything in between. Overall, I left the exhibit satisfied with the new knowledge I gained, impressed with Mr. Von Hagens’ plastination technique and further intrigued by the amazing human body.
The body certainly is an interesting place. I think what surprised me most about the exhibit, was the size of certain things. The human liver is actually quite larger than what I expected, weighing approximately three pounds., the stomach seemed smaller than what I imagined it to be.
I have never given birth, and after seeing the inside of a woman’s abdomen, I have no idea how a tiny uterus can stretch big enough to hold a baby! Seeing these things true to form is way better than pictures in anatomy books. Our organs are stored in our torso pretty tightly. I learned that they are covered in a lubricating fluid so they can slide up against each other smoothly.
Some pretty fascinating facts were outlined as part of the exhibit. Did you know that the human brain, laid out flat, would cover about 16 square feet? Or that the body’s total blood volume flows through the kidneys around 15 times per hour?
The exhibit not only features healthy specimens, but also those which were plagued by disease. Featured individual specimens compared healthy and diseased organs. There were healthy lungs and those affected by cigarette smoking and cancer. There was a healthy liver and one affected by cirrhosis, from drinking alcohol. As I intently studied the diseased organs, I found myself thinking about some of my relatives who have passed away — my grandmother from bladder cancer, my grandfather from lung cancer and my aunt from liver cancer, to name a few. It was enlightening, to say the least.
For further information on Body Worlds, or to become a body donor, visit www.bodyworlds.com.
Janet Young is an amateur photographer who likes to share community events with Sudburians.