My next life as a cadaver
Not to sound ghoulish, but I'd love to observe the lucky students at the University of New England as they dismember my corpse. After a lifetime of living in my body, I'd be curious to see the insides. Once I'm dead, that is, and hopefully decades from now. Alas, witnessing the blessed event will be unlikely, since when I pass on, I'm gone. Not a chance the bundle of energy formally known as "me" would hang out in a university dissection chamber for one-to-three years following my death.
It's official. I've donated my body to science. Just mailed six pages of signed documents, witnessed by a couple pals and my wife, Sweetgrass, to the University of New England. According to a source deep in the Biddeford morgue, about 125 people sign up annually, which apparently translates into about 65 cadavers arriving on the school's doorstep each year. That simply is not enough bodies to share among the future osteopaths and other healing-arts students studying in Maine's only medical school. Despite the current corpse shortage, school enrollment numbers continue to grow. UNE plans to add a dental program soon, creating a larger demand for bodies. I've decided to help. Give them a hand, so to speak. Plus my feet and brains and everything in between.
The actual donation and dissection is pretty simple and painless, especially considering I won't feel a thing. And as a thank you, the school will pay for all expenses connected to disposing of my corpus. As soon as possible, following my demise, I am to be transported to the medical school's laboratories, via a local funeral home. Certain conditions are attached. I'm not to be embalmed or autopsied to ensure my post-mortem treatment is done carefully by UNE with long-term preservation in mind. Plus, the students need a completely intact cadaver to study. Eyes, though, can be donated and removed. But the gazers in my head probably won't be worth much, considering my vision continues to disintegrate annually.
UNE, however, reserves the right to ultimately reject my corpse, which would suck because this is the only way I'm ever gonna get into med school. Conditions that would preclude them taking me, post-life, include hepatitis, HIV, tuberculosis, Mad Cow Disease, extreme obesity or advanced decomposition. Also, if I'm a crime victim and an autopsy is required by law, then I'm also removed from the donor pool. And if the circumstances of my death were the result of extensive trauma due to, let's say, a skydiving accident, Sweetgrass will have to make other arrangements to dispose of my crushed carcass.
Before sending in the paperwork, I needed to make some decisions. Did I, for instance, want to allow UNE to share my body with Northeastern University in Massachusetts and Husson University in Bangor? I answered "No way!" I didn't enjoy visiting those places while alive and I'm not gonna hang out there while I'm dead.
I did agree, however, to grant UNE "indefinite use of certain organs or structures for educational/research purposes/activities." That's why I'm actually donating my body. The fact my corpse will be put to good use brings me a sense of solace when contemplating my eventual death. Plus, the idea my flesh could further another person's understanding of the complexities of human plumbing and wiring is pretty cool. And even better is that UNE's med school grads become osteopaths, my favorite brand of officially-sanctioned healer.
Of course, there is no guarantee that doctors-of-the-future will be the ones chopping my soft tissue into pieces. Upon receipt of my body, laboratory managers will decide my ultimate assignment. I could end up working with a foursome of wannabe docs. Or, since UNE has a varied curriculum, my future dissectors could be students in the physician's assistant, nursing or anesthetization programs where the ratio in the "gross anatomy" classes can be anywhere from four to 15 students per body. Doesn't matter to me. I just want to be helpful.
I've learned, personally, how dissection can be an extremely valuable experience. As a neo-agrarian homesteader who slaughters sheep, goats and chickens, my killings have helped demystify the concept of a "dead body." I've observed the living energy depart, transforming the creature into mere roast and bone. All the animals I've butchered have provided insight and appreciation for the mechanical workings of the pasture critters.
Plus, by donating my corpse, I'll avoid any interaction with the funeral industrial complex. A mere cremation can cost a cool grand. A regular funeral can end up setting survivors back between five and ten thousand, depending on the plushness of the velvet-lined coffin and the number of gas-guzzling hearses idling in the fire-lane outside the church.
But for me, it's not just the money. The wastefulness of embalmed bodies slowly rotting in deluxe wood and brass boxes sealed within a concrete vault drives me crazy. But in these modern times, dissing the funeral industry and church-created artificial rituals is still considered taboo, sometimes even by otherwise "green" folks. Grief, apparently, negates the dramatic negative funerary impact on the environment and the carbon footprint of nationwide cemetery maintenance and grave-grooming.
Once my body is all used up, UNE will cremate my bits and pieces, then ship them in a cardboard container, via registered mail, to Sweetgrass who will scatter the ashes on our land. However, she could, in theory, decline the gift. If that happens, I'll end up interred in the University Cemetery in a crypt devoted to donors.
UNE promises every body given to the school is treated with the utmost respect. Corpse identities and other privacy issues are protected by staff, which gets me wondering: what nickname will the students give me? For some reason, that unknown moniker bothers me more than the image of my disembowelment, brain removal and de-limbing.
Perhaps I should have my name and bibliography tattooed on my left leg. Posthumous book sales would be a plus, but I'm more interested in the cutters reading my work. It'd be funny, I think, for them to have some extra info about the hunk of meat laying on the stainless steel table, waiting to be sliced and diced.