Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Yuks And Yuck!



Sounds like a good thing to do. Donate your body to science. Maybe your corpse will help train a young surgeon so when he's working on a living body he will have the practical experience not to cut the wrong part.

Crash test dummies don't provide the same information as a human body. OK, I won't feel the impact, so let my corpse test the limits of new safety restraints in a vehicle.

But leaving my fresh (i.e. unembalmed) cadaver out in a fenced-in grove and let nature run its course to see what happens -- well, let me think about that one. I sunburn so easily. (And I'm already too bloated now as it is.)

And using my lifeless flesh for vain cosmetic reasons, to "aggrandize penises" -- to use Mary Roach's phrase -- I think I'm ending up on the short end of the donation deal.

The nonfiction book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, is a blend of gags (author Mary Roach's snarky comments and puns) and gags (referring to the reader's physical reactions to gross -- and I do mean gross -- anatomy). She mentions how people who conduct scientific research or investigate fatal disasters have to objectify human remains, pretend that they're made of wax, for example. Her humor is her objectification, especially when she sees a bloated body that's been in a left outside as part of research into criminal forensics.

In Chapter 5, Beyond the Black Box, she discusses how corpses can provide additional clues to the cause of an airplane crash. She interviews an injury analyst who investigated the TWA Flight 800 disaster, a plane that exploded over the Atlantic in July 1996 while en route from the US to Europe. Flight 800 is a favorite among conspiracy theorists who believe nothing happens by accident. What appears to be accidental was actually planned, they believe, the result of machinations being executed by a shadowy Mega-Conspiracy.

The argument is that some witnesses noticed a streak of light going up towards the doomed plane, indicating a missile was fired at it. One theory has the plane being shot down by an US submarine that was in the area at the time.

Others argue that the streak of light was only flame shooting out from Flight 800 after vapors in a fuel tank were ignited by frayed wiring. Because of the viewing conditions, an illusion was created that the light streak was traveling upward.

Chapter 5 lays out all the details how the injury analyst determined that it was an exploding fuel tank, not a missile, that caused the crash. Of course Mary holds back on her jokes during this part of the book, showing how bodies retrieved from the ocean provided clues to what happened.

If you're someone disturbed by corpses being classified by a damage rating system -- from Green (body intact) to Red (loss of three or more extremities or complete transection of the body) -- then you won't be able to handle much of this book.


3 comments:

X. Dell said...

Forget the book. I had a hard enough time reading this post.

I was always on the squeamish side. But given the subject of my interest I often have to examine the grisly--from watching videotape of autopsies, to poring over crime scene photos with a magnifying glass. I've also had to read in detail about The Body Farm (to which you are referring) to gain some understanding of what's normal.

Through all of it, I can't forget that the gory mess in front of my eyes was a real human being, someone I could have talked to during my lifetime, someone who had friends and family, a life, wants, wishes, and everything else.

Doug said...

Um, one time I walked in the room while my wife was watching Grey's Anatomy (this was years ago) and there was some surgery scene on and even the fake medical procedure was too much for me. So how well do you think this book would go over?

On an only semi-related note: Am I a jerk if I get cremated after I expire?

Marvin the Martian said...

A friend of a friend who worked at Space Command (Buckley AFB) told us that one of their spy satellites captured footage of an Iranian freighter firing shoulder-launched missiles at Flight 800 from beyond the 12-mile boundary, in international waters. Of course, that was never made public, because then passengers would demand that the airlines install chaff and flare dispensers on all civilian airliners, which would be prohibitively expensive. Ergo, "it wasn't a missile."