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Corpse Medicine

June 15, 2011

Hats off to a friend from my wild college days for, a few weeks ago, posting what, I believe, is the most fascinating link I’ve seen blip across my facebook feed: an article from the UK Daily Mail detailing the not-quite-ancient European practice of consuming medical “cures” created out of human flesh, blood, and bone. It’s a story of partaking in and becoming a feast of humanity, and it is worth a read.

Again, I thank God for modern medical science.

Again, I indulge for a few minutes into a self-reflective reverie on my lifelong quest for the visceral.

I cling to my iPhone, ignoring my husband, his parents, and my children until I have devoured every word of the article. It’s like a train wreck. I can’t look away.

I can’t quite stop thinking about it.

It’s the nexus of cannibalism, of medical history, of the history of science, of our conceptions and misconceptions of what is savage, and where we stand on the spectrum between civilized and primitive, only not primitive, because this happened a mere 150 years ago.

And then it hits me, a recent memory, a mere ten weeks ago. I am sitting, half-naked, in the office of my outstanding plastic surgeon, the doctor whom I refer to as the Best Doctor in the World, signing the consent forms for my upcoming surgery, the latest round of breast reconstruction. His assistant is describing the specifics of my upcoming procedure. I’m trying not to listen to her describe what they will be doing to me, but I know it’s her job to give me complete information, so I try to look as if I am paying attention.

“What is alloderm?” I ask her.

“It’s a product that helps the tissues hold together during breast reconstruction.”

“Oh. That’s a good thing,” I say. “But what it is?”

“It’s a cellular matrix. Your body grows into it and absorbs it as it heals.”

“Cellular matrix? That’s cool. What is it made of?”

Silence. Then, “It’s a cadaver product.”

“Oh. I see.”

I signed the consent form.

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