cadaver lab

And next we'll be dissecting the spine, visualizing seven cervical, twelve thoracic, and five lumbar vertebrae.


You can determine that this was an active person who acquired extensive degenerative changes, especially throughout the lumbar segments. As we examine the individual vertebrae...

Hey Jim, check out this T1.

Whoa. Haven't seen that before.

Ask Dr. Smith if he's seen it. What would cause dense sclerosis here?

Maybe he had some kind of bone tumor.

No. The bone mineral density is very high.. Bone is living tissue that adapts to the mechanical stress imposed upon it. This thing underwent some immense loading at some point.

Maybe he just had a big head.

The weight of the head actually places mild tensile strain across posterior elements of the thoracic curvature.

Did he lift or carry something near his neck? In this day and age? Whatever the case, that T1 clearly took a beating.

Alright class, that's all we have time for today. Next week we examin the anterior chest wall.

 - - - - - -

The professor makes a quick exit and the students chat about dinner plans as they haphazardly fold up stiff extremities, close tables, and wash their hands. When the lab assistant flips off the fluorescent lights and closes the door, a death of silence and cold and unvented formaldehyde blankets the lab.

I'm not sure why my unconscious brain sporadically creates this scene. The dream is always focused on bones, possibly because they are the most permanent part of our physical existence.

The people in the cadaver lab are always in their own world, detached from their subjects, like when I was the student. They notice, but don't care about the fractured fingers which make my hand appear a bit like Orthanc. They utter "hmmph" and move on after noting the torsional effect that years of throwing had on my right humerus. They poke their scalpel at a bone spur that developed just below my right ankle from repeated ankle sprains. And now, they move on with their lives after observing the dense bony hypertrophy of my first thoracic vertebrae.

They go on with their day like it's all no big deal. And why should it be? There's no time for reading dead bones that tell a story of little use or interest to them. So they bury the load bore on T1 and the scapulae during epic sets of 20-rep squats. They disassemble the lumbar spines journey toward a triple body weight dead lift. They lay to rest the stories of personal records, sweat, strain and fracture.

Dissected, noted, and tossed into the extra-large plastic biohazard tub. And that would be all...

If physical strain strengthened only muscle and bone...
If I brought no one along to share in those journeys...

If I used my knowledge, experience and passion to my own ends...

If the training didn't change me even beyond marrow, the very essence of who I was as a friend and father and husband.

In truth, the effects of habitual intense physical training transcend the mechanical forces that shape bones and the neurochemical signals travelling to and from the brain. Where peak performance gradually falls and bones crumble to dust, a capable and resilient person moves through the physical to inspire, forge, and serve generations...