Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Excuse me, your corpus callosum is showing - Feb 26, 2009

I got I got I got I got I got I got I got

to see a dissection yesterday!

of a BRAIN!!!!

at the MORGUE!!!!!

I have the best job ever! The BEST JOB EVER!!!!


Now, surprisingly, when I've told people this, they've asked whether the person was alive, so before I continue with the story, let's be perfectly clear... the person whose brain we were dissecting was most definitely DEAD.

It went like this like this like this... it was SO COOL!!!

OK ok ok ok, so me and my friend Robin, we are both social workers, and we heard one of the docs had arranged with the Medical Examiner's office to have an ME cut a brain and discuss it for the third-year residents. Now, they all went to medical school, and they've done all this before, but we focus almost entirely on the brain here, and the powers that be figured it would be a good refresher for the docs. So Robin and I horned in.

You should know, too, that at UNC the Morgue is on the eleventh floor. The eleventh floor, people!!! There's a DRAIN. Think about it! EWWWWWWWWW!!!

But we were in one of the side rooms. We weren't in with all the actual bodies. We were, though, apparently in the BRAIN room. Picture a box the size of a box of chocolates, but made of clear plastic. Picture that clear box filled with fluid and a SLICE of BRAIN. Then picture SCORES of those boxes all along the shelves that lined three walls of the room, floor to high ceiling. OMG! Brains everywhere!!!

I was looking around, marvelling at it all, and on the chalkboard were weird drawings of Y-branches bulging in the middle, and a roughly brain-shaped sketch and words like berry aneurysm and uncal herniation. And then I was looking at the clear boxes with the brain slices, and suddenly felt a little woozey. As long as it's just anatomy, I'm good, but as soon as I start thinking, that's what MY brain looks like, oh dear, the room would start spinning. Gack!

And then a large, tattooed, burley dude came in wielding a huge Ginsu-looking knife and laid it on the stainless steel table next to the scalpels and scissory-looking things that were there, and walked out silently.

And then a few minutes later, the sweet, Mr. Rogers-esque ME dude came in, wearing his oh-so-perfect red tie and blue shirt, and he outfitted himself in a plastic aprony/covery thing (note the scientific jargon--I do work in a hospital, btw), and he suggested we all get started, so while we had been chatting casually--Robin and I along with a handful of third-year residents--we quieted down and perched on high stools closer to the table...

And then Mr. Rogers reached into a white plastic BUCKET and with no further ado, but with a strange splutting sound, PULLED OUT A BRAIN!!!!! Aaaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! A BRAIN people, a BRAIN!!!! And he plunked it down on the table!!!!! PLUNK!!!!

And on top of the brain is a thick, plastic-looking thing that looks exactly like a Harris Teeter bag, attached to the top but hanging loosely on each side, and he's explaining that this brain has been treated with something that made the blood vessels turn a dark brown instead of the bright red we would usually see, and so while it looks almost exactly as it would coming out of the skull, a fresh one would be more pink. And while he's doing this, he's moving the Harris Teeter bag back and forth, and it is firmly affixed to the center of the top of the brain.

He tells us that he knows nothing about the person who donated the brain, but he can tell by its size that it's a female--one of the docs and I simultaneously say "'Cuz it's so big!" and then high-five the "jinx" moment, but he says, "No, a woman's brain is about 100 grams smaller..." and I say, "Oh, we're just that much more efficient..." and he comments that there is a lot of variation in brain size, so it could just be a small man's brain, but he's fairly certain it's a woman because there is very little fat!!! So of course, the women, who well outnumber the ONE other man in the room spontaneously and simultaneously errupt with "Fatheads!!!" And then smile and say, "Well, of course, except for you two..." to the two poor men in the room.

He notes that she must have been over 60 because there is signfiicant atrophy. Really? And he points out how the squiggly wormy parts of the top of the brain are squiggly and wormy, and how in a healthy, young brain, all those squiggles are pushed tightly together so that the "space" between is just a line, but in an older, atrophying brain, caverns start to appear between the squiggles, and sure enough, in this one, he can slide his finger in between. She's over 60. I'm two-thirds of my way there. My brain is atrophying even as I watch this man slide his finger between her squiggles. The room starts to spin again. I focus on my affinity for crossword puzzles and hope for the best...

He then proceeds to point out the different lobes of the brain, shows how people used to do lobotomies, pulls off the Harris Teeter bag (the Dura), shows where people get different brain bleeds, talks about the meninges, including the "arachnoid," (who knew we had spiders in our skulls???), and then ...

He takes the Ginsu knife, and carefully cuts, like a jello prop, a SLICE OF BRAIN. OMG! And it goes SPLUT as it falls to the side and hits the table! OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG!!!
And he happily points out various brain structures, showing where there is white matter, grey matter, and different nerve bundles. He cuts slice after slice, reciting names of things that all sound familiar from classes years ago. He shows us the olfactory nerves--thick white cords, just like you'd expect--and the optic nerves, and then various blood vessels that shoot up in the center. The pituitary gland looks like a mushroom and dangles perfectly intact from one of the slices.

The whole time, I'm fine as he's quoting Latin names, although one really must giggle when you get to the peduncal. But as soon as he would say something like, "This controls balance," then it would become too real, too personal, and the room would spin, the nausea would rise. But I fought it back by focusing on the Latin... He showed where a small aneurysm or any kind of swelling would affect various parts of the brain, describing what the consequences would be, and how in the lowest part of the brain, where everything narrows to a tiny knot at the base of the skull, how even the smallest disturbance would have dire consequences (the girl behind me said, plainly, "and then you die...") and I kept saying, "I really need to NOT KNOW all the things that can go wrong..."

And in about an hour the whole thing was over, and then he was grabbing with his hands all the pieces of brain to plunk back in the bucket the way you and I would clean up after a kid was playing with Play-Doh.

1 comment:

  1. Aww. This makes me wish I'd actually made it to brain slicing instead of saying, shit, I've done this too many times already and know that I won't retain a damn thing from it (I blame my hippocampus). Who knew you would be so cute about dead people's disembodied organs?