Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

03 April 2006

I see Dead Bodies ...

This past weekend my family and I went to see an absolutely amazing exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science: Body Worlds 3. As a person who actually started down the path toward doctorhood, I found the entire exhibit to be utterly fascinating. My 4-year-old daughter got bored quickly but my 10-year-old son stayed interested. The entire exhibit consists of real human bodies and body parts that have been preserved through a process called plastination. The bodies are dissected to show all sorts of physiological structures, including organs, bones, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments. There is even a partially dissected man astride a rearing, partially dissected horse. There are also individual bones, organs or organ systems displayed. For instance, the brain and the majority of the central nervous system are displayed as an entity - nothing else, just nerves. So is the entire digestive tract from the mouth to the ... other end, including all 40 or so feet of the small intestine. There were the lungs of a smoker next to a non-smoker, the liver of an alcoholic, a brain beset by Alzheimer's and joints deteriorated by arthritis. There was a one-inch thick top-to-bottom, front-to-back cross-section through the head, thorax and leg of a man (it's ALL there!) who weighed 300 pounds at death. Subcutaneous body fat is off-white in color and this guy had a LOT of off-white surrounding him. It was unbelievable to actually see so many of the things you hear about from your doctor.

The majority of the large exhibits allow the viewers to get within inches of them and most of the bodies are not inside any sort of protective case. The exhibits basically rely on a small rope and the honor system to keep viewers from touching, and it works. The individual organs and systems are inside clear cases but the cases are small to allow very close viewing and most also allow viewing from all sides. There are, of course, written explanations of all the exhibits and there is also a guided audio commentary available (for a fee). There are doctors and med students available at a kiosk to answer questions, and you can also actually handle some of the preserved organs there, including a liver, a heart, a forearm cross-section and a thigh cross-section. In addition to the horse and rider, there are a number of other posed figures including a dancer, a trapeeze acrobat, a man holding his skin and four men playing poker. The atmosphere of the entire exhibit was interesting, hushed but not totally quiet and very far from gross. I HIGHLY recommend making it to any of the Body Worlds exhibits if you have an opportunity to do so.

  • On 4/04/2006 3:58 AM, Anonymous Spicy Cauldron said…

    I am surprised the exhibition has reached the US. When it ran here in the UK and in parts of Europe, there was a lot of controversy surrounding it and the man behind it. Many religious groups and fundies are vehemently opposed, as are individuals. Channel 4 television here in the UK had the man behind the exhibition perform an autopsy on TV.

    I haven't seen it myself and wouldn't want to so I reserve any judgement. I am sure it is fascinating for many and your review is a good one.

    It's also worth pointing out that people are queueing up to sign on the dotted line to leave their bodies to the guy to undergo plasticisation after death. x

  • On 4/04/2006 4:09 PM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    Um, count me out. I'm a wuss.

  • On 4/04/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger Jami said…

    Yeah, yeah, I know that, Denise. But really, this exhibition is truly fascinating. I overheard one man say that although everything there was once a living person, if you don't think about it the plastination process makes it look like a model.

    Know thyself, ya know.

  • On 4/05/2006 6:58 AM, Anonymous Angela (JerseyGirlAngie) said…

    I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the exhibition, as apparently did a large number of people. It is fascinating to see what we really look like inside, and the plastination process makes the subjects just unreal enough to keep (most) people from getting too grossed out. It is a little surprising the lack of protests about the exhibit - spicy cauldron is quite right about what happened in Europe.
    Glad to hear the kids liked it, and good to hear that you're doing well.


  • On 4/05/2006 9:37 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    There was a little furor here when the exhibition opened but it was very minor and very short-lived. I don't know if having the exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which is within a mile of the largest medical center in the world, had anything to do with that, but it might have.

  • On 4/09/2006 7:36 PM, Blogger Jen said…

    *hoping to get dad out to see it with me*


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