Cadaver beard oil: the next big thing?
Suited in our gloves and pristine white lab coats, we stare eagerly at the carefully covered cadavers, anticipation mounting, nervous excitement dripping off us in that classic first year-medical-student way.
It’s our very first cadaver dissection.
There are 40 or so cadavers around the room, and my group, having now met for the first time, has been assigned the corner-most one, the largest cadaver in the room.
We begin apprehensively, easing off the blue coverings and I’m immediately punched in the face. No, really, imagine getting hit in the face during anatomy. I had experienced my first formaldehyde intoxication.
As freshers, the first incision is a moment to be greatly dramatised. We had all imagined cutting through the skin in one fine swoop. Only the scalpel barely makes a tear. The fine delicate surgical techniques we’d romanticised were a long shot from the methods needed now.
We begin blunt dissection, sliding our hands beneath the skin to pull apart fascia. Considerable strength is needed; all of us crowd around, working together, bonding for the first time as our hands begin digging.
We had thought that digging through the thick fascia had got us to our organs and as we peel back the last few later, we can barely contain our excitement, our pride, in getting here, to see the muscles, the heart, the lungs.
But no. We are met with a vast layer of vividly yellow, thick, mushy fat. Several inches, all over, no organs to be seen.
We look around at the tables surrounding us, where cadavers lay, organs beautifully visible and fat-free, then back at ours. Our excitement is beginning to waver. How could we be so far behind our peers?
We begin pulling out the fat with our gloved hands. It’s dripping everywhere. Our white coats are now stained yellow, fat clinging to our sleeves, seeping into our clothes and dripping onto our shoes. We pull away at the yellow fat, using the scalpel, forceps and scissors to break through, desperately trying to visualise the organs, but nothing is as effective as the raw power we have with our hands.
Splashes of mustard-yellow adipose fly everywhere as we get deeper. One lands on my face, all wet and lumpy, and another near my colleague’s eye. Almost hysterical, she runs to wash it out. I look over to my left and a single drop is dangling off another colleague’s hair - let’s call him Mr. X.
By now it has quickly spread across the dissection lab that an immensely fatty cadaver is present in our midst, one that our group has been trying to get into for over a hour. Students from the other tables begin visiting, both intrigued and disappointed at how little of the cadaver we have been able to dissect. We get it - we’re not as good as you guys. Medics huh, always so competitive.
With an audience now present, our first-year-medical-student drive has re-ignited; we continue with a new sense of competition, digging harder, showing off. (I know I bashed medics earlier for being competitive, but if you can’t beat them, join them, right?)
At this point, we’re all sweaty and in need of a break. During this down time we became interested in exploring the fat we were working through, showing our peers it’s clingy, solidly-liquidy state, its ability to cover all surfaces.
Being eager and newly acquainted, it's only natural that we all begin taking turns to bring our faces down close to the chunks of fat in the cadaver's open body to really get a good look.
It’s my turn and I go for it, coming up only a few seconds later, eyes and nose streaming, snot running down my nose. How glamorous it is being a medical student. The formaldehyde really hits you hard.
Now it’s time for Mr.X to have a go. He is certain he won’t be phased by the smell, and will show our audience how it’s done. He scoops right down and begins observing the cadaver closely. Then he raises his head and comes up with a satisfied smile.
But he doesn’t look the same as when he went down; something is different about him. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Then I see it. Slowly everyone comes to same realisation.
Mr. X had a beard- a curly, black, luscious, longish beard. Only it’s now yellow and coated in yellow fat.
He also begins to realise something is wrong. It takes him several, painfully long, agonisingly silent seconds to notice.
We all stare at him. Him back at us - willing us to tell him it isn’t true.
He can no longer contain himself and lets out a massive “AH! EW! AH! EW! EW!" and it ripples across the room, dawning on us all, what has happened.
He has never attended a dissection session after that. I can’t quite figure out why... hmm.
I saw him later on that week and his beard looked remarkable.
Could it be…? Cadaver beard oil?