Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Bodies Beautiful
Long before I came onto the scene my husband was a pre-med student. At some point he changed directions, went into engineering instead, but the interest has always remained with him. He can still name bones and muscles and systems that we both studied in high school; it's just obvious he studied a little harder. When we first saw the advertisements for The Bodies Exhibit he told me he'd like to see it. Realizing they were 'real' bodies, it didn't really occur to me that it would be controversial. I've seen displays of bodies in museums before, and never thought of it as something controversial, but rather a rare opportunity to see something wonderful .
The tickets were a bit pricey, but Don kept bringing it up. 'I'd really like to see it. It's only here for a short time." So finally, as a Christmas gift to him, I made reservations for the first Sunday after SuperBowl, a good time to schedule anything since most men haven't figured out yet what to do with a slot reserved the past six months for watching football.

As I began to mention to friends that we were going, I got mixed reactions. Scrunched up noses, 'ooh', 'yuck', that sort of thing. A few told me they were hoping to see it too. By the time we actually attended the display I realized people had mixed feelings about it, or were completely turned off to it. Some were indignant that the exhibit even existed.
We drove on icy roads, in sub-zero temperatures to get there, expecting attendance to be low. You had to make reservations for a specific time-slot, to avoid overcrowding inside. When we arrived I was just glad to be there, safe and sound and warm, and was surprised to see how many other people had ventured out. Maybe we're just tough up here in the 'Burgh!

The display is set up in a sequential order. You start with the skeletan and work your way inside, through body systems, muscles, what is skin's role, etc. There were probably six different rooms, curtained off from each other. The lights were low, there was no speaking, no music, no narration. You went at your own pace, and most people took the time to read all the labels that were provided so we knew what we were seeing.

Instead of droning on and on about each part of the display, I'll just summarize here: It was beautiful, amazing, strange, incredible. At times I was so struck by the fact that the 'display' I was looking at was a human being, one who had lived and loved and laughed, they'd eaten, slept, worked, cried, reproduced, raised children - that was hard to take in. They'd lived an entire life, and ended up here, with all of us walking around looking at them. At other times I'd forget a bit and just be so fascinated by what I was looking at. There were displays of every part of the body, done so differently than I'd ever seen or will see again. Bodies stripped of skin to show the muscles at work. Seeing a case that had the entire system of veins displayed. Seeing inside the chambers of a heart, behind the eyes, what the skull looks like from the inside out. When we began walking through I was asking Don, 'where's the liver?' or "what's that?' By the end of the two hours, I could identify most of the major organs easily. It was amazing to look on a display and see eye lashes, real eye lashes, hair follicles, nails, etc. and again realize these were people who had lived. Just like me. That I was seeing what I look like on the inside. What I'll look like someday. One body was displayed holding hands with another, yet we were told it was the same body - one with the skeletan removed and the other with the muscles, etc. Another display was of a body sliced from top to bottom into four parts, each displayed next to each other, so you could see through the heart or lungs or brain. Very strange, very amazing.

There were displays that showed lungs with emphysema or lung cancer, heart disease, body fat in excess, and next to each display was a specimen that had been healthy. There were male and female displays which showed all body parts graphically. One room had a warning which I found interesting. While we'd all just spent over an hour looking at adult human bodies, when we came to the room that had fetuses in it, babies who had lived in utero up to seven months before they died, they warned us we might not want to go inside. I was able to see a fetus at one week, all the way up to six weeks, and learned the heart begins to beat at three weeks. You just cannot believe how small a three week fetus is, yet it's heart is beating! I saw displays of cleft palate and spina bifida, and a fifteen week fetus that had died, but you could see so many details of it's body. I wondered as I walked and looked, what had those parents felt when they lost this child? That it was so small, yet they grieved what it would have become. They didn't grieve the fetus that was as big as the head of a pin, but rather the little girl with curls running through the grass of their lawn, or the little boy, cap pulled over his eyes, with a fishing pole in his hand. I looked, thankful I never lost a child, never had to experience that.

So my overall impression? How could anyone see those displays and not believe in God? The beauty that God has woven into the human body, the intricacies, the amazing systems, how everything works together, it was just amazing and felt like worship to walk amongst it.

I've gotten a few emails asking about taking children to see it - there were many, many children there. They were a bit louder than the adults, full of questions. Some were too young to have heard the 'facts of life' but they didn't seem put off by body parts that were very much displayed. The adults kept their voices low, talked to each other in quiet, whispered tones, stooped down to answer the questions of their children, or to point out something they wanted them to see. Once in awhile you heard a child say "yuck" or "cool" - kids are just more honest than we are.

At the very end of the display was a board where you could leave a notecard, and I saw many, many with requests for a relative to quit smoking, or to get healthy, and I saw one card that said, "Okay already, I'll quit!" Signed, "Aunt Cathy". We were glad we went. We'd recommend it to others, but then each of us has to decide for ourselves, so I won't try to do that for you. I will say I was amazed to see an appendix, how tiny it really is and realize my brother almost died from his rupturing. I was completely fascinated to see how small a uterus is, and yet it eventually grows to support a full-term baby. How long our intestinal system is, it even goes up sometimes before heading back down, and after seeing how small a stomach really is, the meals we're serving up here in America are too big! Don and I looked for a long time at knees, how they work since mine don't, and then at the spine, and the discs in the back since he needs back surgery someday. I overheard another woman who was looking at hip bones, discussing her hip replacement, explaining it to those she was with.

I know there is controvery about where the bodies originated. At the end of the tour which took us two hours, I stopped and asked one of the Science Center employees working there about the origin of the bodies. She told me they were all from China, had died natural deaths and been unclaimed, so they are automatically taken to a hospital, where they become the property of that facility. They were sold to the United States for this specific display which is in many locations across the country. None of the fetuses were aborted, but rather were miscarried or died in the womb. I don't have all the answers, can only give you my impression. If you have more questions about that you can go HERE to read about it.

Update: My sister let me know you can also go HERE, click on "Bodies, the Exhibition" on the upper right, then skip the intro, you'll see a body with a soccer ball, and it'll say "About the Exhibition", under that there is a drop down box, and four choices. One of them explains the process, and one has some great videos. If you're interested but won't be able to attend it, it's a great way to see it from your computer.


  posted at 8:36 AM

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