Solving a Mystery

In anatomy lab, we’re currently working on the thorax and abdomen region of our cadaver. When we first met our cadaver, we didn’t know anything about her. What did she do in life? What did people called her and how old was she? All we knew was that she was old and thin. But as we work more and more on her, we have uncovered clues on what her life was like and even how she could have passed away. Even for as small as she was, we found a humongous spleen, and her liver was as hard as a rock, signs of either serious alcoholism or intense drugs use. Is this how she could have died? We also found a very large lymph node along her trachea, which is likely a metastasizing cancer, yet we have yet to find any other indications of tumors anywhere else. Perhaps the drug she was using was chemotherapy. Perhaps she died from cancer treatment.  When we worked on her head, We also found a lot of vomit in her mouth, which must have happened during the time of her death. The possibilities are many, but we have uncovered clues here and there.

We’ve also seen some other interesting cases in our cadaver lab. There was a body with a hip replacement. There was a body with lots of gold teeth and another body without any teeth at all. There were a few bodies without appendices, having undergone appendectomy. There was also a body whose appendix is as large and thick as three fingers. Perhaps this person died of appendicitis, which is pretty rare in this day and age.

There was also a body with cancer tumors big and small covering the entire lung. It was clear that he was not a smoker, but his cancer spread there from other parts of his body. This was obviously the most likely cause of his death. Looking at his body, it scares yet amazes me how cancer can conquer a whole living person like that, and cannot be stopped.

There were a few bodies who we could tell were smokers (either that or they lived most of their lives in a big, polluted city). Their lungs were very black and filled with tar and soot. Looking at it should deter anyone from the seducing puff of the cigarette, especially medical students who work on these bodies, yet we still have some students here at AUC who smoke.

Most interesting, one of the bodies in the lab had an atrial septal defect. Before we were born, we all had an opening between the atria of our heart to let the blood bypass the non-functioning fetal lungs and go directly into systemic circulation. This opening usually closes at birth to form the fossa ovale, but some people have a congenital defect in which this process does not complete. Oxygenated blood mixes with deoxygenated blood in the heart, affecting this person’s endurance for physical activity.

All of these patients died, leaving clues from their lives and their last moments. It amazes me how much one can learn about someone’s life just from looking at their body. I see the strength and adaptability of the human body, and yet at the same time, its vulnerability that leads it to death.

**UPDATE 11/05/2009**

Update: we found a tumor in our cadaver’s liver… the signs are pointing more towards cancer now!