There was a certain ignorance I had about the body before dissecting it from shoulder to foot (head and neck are up next and last). Some of what I’ve learned was surprising, disconcerting, and fascinating:
1. The female urethra is very, very short. I was aware that it was only a few centimeters in length, but seeing the bladder so close to the outside world (and the anal opening) made me wonder why every woman doesn’t always have a UTI.
2. The body is almost entirely shades of brown, yellow, gray, and red. The gallbladder and its contents are the only exception: a stunning bright olive-green (in live people, it is robin’s egg blue).
3. We have an internal apron: a layer of visceral fat, several inches thick, that hangs from our stomach. It helps protect our stomach, accessory digestive organs, and small and large intestines. This is different from subcutaneous fat, which is what we usually think of when we put on weight. The female “apron” is thicker than the male (she has more internal organs to protect)–which unfortunately leaves the door wide open for sexist jokes.
4. Even if you do not smoke, your lungs will probably end up black and speckled from what you’ve breathed in over a lifetime.
5. The appendix elicited a large amount of anger from my labmate. It looked puny, flat, and unnecessary. Since it is at the beginning of the large intestine, it easily gets infected. Appendix pain has been said to be the most agonizing pain there is.
6. Our bodies can differ substantially, with apparently no impact. There are certain things we’ll never know about ourselves unless a careful anatomist dissected us. Some arteries, veins, and nerves run in different directions, taking tortuous routes–and some simply do not exist. Sometimes the right kidney is higher; sometimes the left is. A thigh can have a large benign mass, made entirely of fat. Cysts are very common, sprinkled throughout the body.
7. Your body gets hard when it ages. Calcifications develop in the cavity holding your lungs, coronary arteries harden, cartilage disappears and leaves rough bone in its wake.
8. In one day, our kidney filter 150-180 liters of blood. We can survive with reduced kidney function or just one kidney. One kidney is only about the size of a computer mouse.