The gym move consumed so much time and effort both mentally and physically. The move also was supposed to be done way before our week-long dissection course hosted by Tom Myers (Anatomy Trains) and Todd Garcia (Master Dissector at Laboratories of Anatomical Enlightenment). The time between was brief and we barely had time to pack and head out to Arizona. The course is open to the public if you pay the dough. We signed up months before, pretty much the day we saw it. The wife was a bit nervous about it and lined it all up with one final “Are you sure?”. Press it now or we won’t do it was my response. It may have been expensive but, my feeling was when on earth will you ever be able to dissect a fresh cadaver? Plus my desire to see all the things I wrecked in my body, all the points I activate continuously and how they might work together, how the parts connect that you have offered so much sage advice on over the years, where all the supplements you recommend go, what the body actually looks like versus what you imagine it being-the list goes on and on. I don’t know how anyone can call them self an expert on anything in this industry, well world, after you see that. I thought I knew a little sumthin’ sumthin’. I have always said even with all my years of experience, training, learning etc.. if you put that on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 meaning the all-knowing god of the body, I would be at a 2 maybe 3. Now probably back down to 1 or less.
You have to bring a few things, lab coats, gloves, goggles, scrubs and most of all your signed wavier (permission/field trip slip). Yeah, we showed up without that part. That’s how out of it we were from the move fury. Where they hold the course is in an industrial/office park area. Yea, nope, not at a hospital or “morgue” type place just a plain old office park. Tom shows up and he is sorta a rock star of the movement world. He begins to ask for these forms. Hold on, we got there early before all the hoopla began and Todd was there. We were pretty early and walked into the locker room/ reception/bathroom area. It is about a 10×10 area where 48 of us would congregate before heading into the “cut ‘em” up area. Todd is a very quirky master dissector (brilliant guy) tells us it is not time and basically come back later-very cut and dry guy. HA! So, we go away for a bit and come back and the gathering has begun. Tom is collecting the parent permission slips and gets to us. We decide to take our beating and tell him we forgot them and beg for forgiveness. We pretty much got that this is one of the course requirements with no joking whatsoever. The “how dare you show up at my shit without the paperwork” look was what we got. He moves on to the collecting of others paperwork and we slink back and away. Luckily one of the other attendees had a blank copy so we then had to figure out how to get copies and be back. There was an automotive custom shop a couple of doors down from the dissection laboratory, let that sink in a bit, and we made a desperate attempt there. We walked in and I immediately saw a printer there at the guy’s desk. He was super nice and said sure to our pleading. Permission slips obtained. Tom only gives us a mild stink face when we give him our slips. Somehow we always seem like we are the outsiders.
We got past the doorman and into the “cut ‘em up” club. Sweet! The laboratory was a slim room maybe 20 ft wide by 50 ft long with a couple of large freezers in the back and one or two upfront. The reality began to set in. One of the things that haunt us all is fear of the unknown. We made plenty of jokes beforehand about it between me and the wife. When we told people where we were going most of what we got was a blank stare, some disgust and “why?”. Most people thought we were going on vacay and offered the normal pleasantries until we told them what we were doing. I guess it is a little hard to comprehend and probably before I got in the gym business I would have thought the same way. Given my curious nature I may have done it back then but with less fervor.
Our main dilemma seemingly was not throwing up or being sick the entire time. After all, it is a decaying body at room temperature. Neither of us knew how we would handle it, go running out of the room, stand tall with our ninja butt squeeze technique (try it and see how it works, it is especially helpful in stressful situations or confrontations) all god damn day long. You just don’t know how you are going to do. We had watched the Tom Myers dissection DVDs for Anatomy Trains and that was a little unnerving but doable. My biggest concern was having to look the cadaver in the eyes and keep my shit together. In the videos they had the face covered so part of me hoped for that.
We walked into the club with 48 other people from all over the world. Not kidding either: China, Australia, Poland, U.K., New Zealand, want to say Sweden and the Netherlands as well. Plethora of peeps crammed in this room. The interesting part was, for many, this was their second or third time around. One guy we clung to, I believe was his 4th or 5th time. As you sat there you looked around the walls of the room and there are the tables and body bags. It was about this time, I said to the old lady, shit is about to get real. The butterflies began to churn for me and I immediately had to NBS (ninja butt squeeze) the stitch and make sure my tummy was out and breathing into my diaphragm. This passed quick and introductions began. The majority of the room are manual therapists, yoga and Pilates instructors. Not what I would expect. Even the Chinese were Pilates instructors although I am not a hundo percent that as true. Not the most uptight room I have been in but a little stuffy.
You get the small folder with basically the week’s outline and descriptions of the processes. It sounds like a doable process. You think “oh they are going to show us and then we do”. No, that is not how it is gonna go. Besides Tom and Todd, there are assistants to help when you are stuck or have questions but for the most part you are jumping off into the abyss. Like after boot camp and ready or not, here is your gun, now go to it. Before I go further with that, let’s go back to the body bags. After introductions and instructions for the next steps of the process, the bodies are pulled away from the table and we took the bodies out of the bags. I am a team-player so I wasted no time helping. There was a lot of looking around at who would buck up and get to it. Plus, to me, the sooner you get your hands dirty, the sooner you get used to it.
First you get the body out of the big bag and then unwrap it like a candy bar. There is a second layer of plastic to get to the body. It is cold from being in the cooler. But I got past that and tried to handle her delicately thinking I was going to break something. By the end of the week, my approach to her was different. After we got the bodies out, we are instructed to walk around and pick the body we wanted to work on. There were 48 people and 8 bodies so 6 per table. Everyone mulled around like they were at the zoo. Some pick a body fast and knew exactly which one they wanted. Our group came together and seemed to huddle around the lady we pulled out of the bag. This could have been a dodge ball (the movie) moment where all the kids that want to get chosen by the best and be on the strongest team. Our band of Average Joe’s seemed to all go “meh, eh” to our person. Eventually that is that and all the other teams have been filled. We had an excellent team and in the end our cadaver was an awesome candidate.
This course is unique because all of the donor’s body is returned back to the family after cremation. You get one towel to soak up blood and fluids that gets squeezed off into a bag with all the other parts taken off. At the end of the week it is all gathered up, including the towel and placed with the body. You also have to name your person. You are not given any information about them but you have to name them. It is a compassionate process while you get to learn. Our girls was named Claudia. At first she didn’t look like a Claudia so I called her Jesse personally. Names varied from average to over the top as par for the teams ego I think. Anyhow, my first thing to overcome was looking her in the eyes. Much to my chagrin, her face was not covered as in the videos. I faced my fear the only way, looking straight into her eyes. I tear up a bit when I realized she was a person with a life. I didn’t want her to be there dead but such is life, a birth and a death. Still a little difficult with the reality of it but personally I had been trying to face this reality for years. I stared as long as I could doing my NBS and then stared some more while touching her gently. Ninja Butt Squeezes helped a lot.
Next, we got our tools with the safety protocols. You are given a scalpel and your choice – tweezers or hemostat. They recommend the hemostat and most people took those, of course, except me, I went for the tweezers thinking with my left shoulder issues they would work better rotation wise. It wasn’t the best choice as my hand got tired fast but they worked fine. Off to the races. Yes, that is exactly it. Oh, don’t saw, use the scalpel like a paint brush. Sort of like when they told not to bear down too hard with your pencil or else you will break the tip off.
Your first day is removing the skin on the front side. They give you choices take all the layers down -epidermis, dermis and hypodermis or just the top two leaving the hypodermis. This is a much harder task and our lady did not have much fatty tissue, so we went all the way. She was small so six people surrounding her didn’t leave much room to work. Each person had to decide where they wanted to start so after the musical chairs I was left by her left shoulder and arm. I was a bit shy of tackling the head and neck, so I just stared at her arm for a minute. Suddenly I was gently slicing the upper arm. It began to open up. Being terrified of hacking her up it was a very slow process. Little by little I painted with my scalpel. She had some fluid trapped or bound as Tom would say – we call it edema – that was what we saw first, and it was super weird.
I was prepared with my grape fruit oils on my mask to keep the smell away but with the mask and glasses all it did was fog up. My mask went down quick and pretty much stayed down the rest of the week. I noticed some people had dabbled oil on their lab coat lapel and figured out that was an easier way to avoid the smell, but my masks stayed doused in oil all week and kept my beard smelly. I spent the morning and up till lunch break working the skin off her arm and leg. One of the things about this work is there is no easy way to do it. You just have to lift the skin, delicately use your scalpel to separate the skin away to get to the profunda fascia which was the goal. Some of the skin came off easily and some required extra effort and patience. I just really didn’t want to hack her up and somehow ruin the experience. Tom and Todd and all the assistants would stop by and help us. They made it look so effortless.
Our girl Claudia, we all pretty much agreed upon, just died of old age. She had very little muscle and was locked in a position turned to her right. We surmised she was either slumped in a wheel chair or didn’t leave her wheeled bed much laying on her side. She did not lay flat and remained in the rotated position even on her back as we dissected. As the next couple of days went on and we removed more and more skin, her body began to unfold. She did not reach a state where she was totally flat but from where she started and ended up it was pretty amazing to watch.
Lunch for the week was the food truck. On day 1, Tom and Todd asked if we wanted the food truck to come by. Apparently, you have to have enough people and you have to tell them to come by, others wise you ain’t a gettin’ no food. After everyone reluctantly agreed as you can imagine, you aren’t really thinking about food too much when you are carving up dead people. More unknown quantity I think. Well the food truck turned out to be awesome and she came by every day. She had anything you could imagine including real sugar Fresca and another fruity soda that was awesome. We ate light all week off the food truck. Nothing too heavy. Even though you needed to take your mind off what you did for the last 3 or 4 hours, I was not starving. Reminded me sort of meet day, I ate very little for breakfast and light snacking after the squat or bench. They had a nice grassy front area so most of us just hung out there-each with their clique. A picnic scene at a park.
The afternoon we, well me for sure, continued to fumble our way through the hackery. They stopped us before 5 pm so everyone could clean up and properly put away our Claudia. Probably the most important reason is most brains like ours were fried and could not take any more intense focus. All fluids are then cleaned up and squeezed off in their proper place and the body was re-bagged. This also isn’t a time to be bashful as you have to roll them on the side, lay the bag down and slide Claudia into the bag. I am a trooper here and we get her in. She isn’t heavy at all, just awkward with the negotiations. We had to clean up the bag, dump our instruments in a bucket and then wait our turn to put the body in the cooler. Yes, into the freezers in the back and front if you remember: packed and stacked.