Obese Cadavers Are Not Your Friends

  • Posted on: Feb 11 2012
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Not Wanted: Obese Cadavers

It may make some squeamish to talk about, but it’s a topic that any US doctor can speak about. There’s an interesting article on MSNBC.com in their health section where they discuss how medical schools often turn down obese cadavers because of the inability to effectively use them to learn.

I’ve worked on cadavers since I was in college. Human anatomy was my major. Even then students would fight over who got the muscular or lean cadavers.

Fat is yellow. It’s greasy. It obscures normal anatomy. When you’re trying to learn the anatomy of a nerve that is the size of a human hair yet controls your facial movement, it’s very frustrating to try to tease it out of a material that acts like congealed cottage cheese. It’s so much easier to learn natural anatomy without feeling like it’s a battle to visualize it through tissue that doesn’t need to be there. It’s difficult enough to learn in an ideal setting.

The grease gets on your gloves, your books, your pens, and even your clothes. The more fat, the more embalming fluid. The more the embalming fluid, the more the smell. That smell permeates everything: clothes, hair, skin. My wife would have me shower after spending more than an hour in the anatomy lab because she could smell it.

Not only is there fat under the skin masking muscles, nerves, arteries, tendons, and ligaments, it builds up in and around organs. It changes the shape and appearance of the heart, the liver, and the colon among others. In otolaryngology, it has a significant effect on the neck anatomy.

While all of this may be a bit uncomfortable to consider, it does have ramifications worth considering. Obesity has implications in life as well as in death.

I’ll probably think about that a bit more now myself before I think about eating that extra piece of pizza or slice that brownie larger than I probably should.

–Richard D. Thrasher III, MD


Posted in: General Medical, Interesting Stuff

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