There is a magnet on my fridge that my girlfriend bought me. It says, “I like poetry, long walks on the beach and poking dead things with a stick.” It’s so funny to me because it’s true! Many beach walks with my grandfather growing up involved poking dead crabs, jellyfish, and a random seagull or two and when he wasn’t looking putting them in my orange bucket. I also learned and practiced massage from an early age on. Working on muscles and pressure points intrigued me about the inner workings of the human body. I loved the cadaver show that came to San Francisco a few years back because I could visually see what my hands had felt over countless years doing massage.
A few years ago, I read “Stiff” by Mary Roach. I went to my family and told them when I die they were under strict instruction to donate my body to science. Like the cadavers in Mary Roach’s book, I want my earthly remains to be busy and useful post humus albeit in plastic surgery, teaching anatomy or being a crash test dummy. My family just rolled their eyes, shook their heads and muttered, “Only Cat.”
Another great book about dead people recently crossed my path and I am reading it now. “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” by William R. Maples, Ph.D. is the assigned book for the next Down to a Science Book Club get together on Monday, September 13 at Books Inc. I am having a wonderful time reading this book as it a chronicles a brilliant career of a forensic anthropologist in Florida. In starting this book, I thought I knew a lot about forensics but many times I have caught myself very surprised to learn something new about the field and its make-up. Below are a few tidbits from the book that piqued my interest:
– Body decomposition is subjective. A body that is wrapped or in a container will decompose differently that one left out in the air. Temperature, climate, season, how deep a body is buried all affects the rate of decomposition. One instance is given in the book of a grave containing three bodies that had different rates of decomposition because each body was at a different depth – even though they were buried at the same time.
– In certain circumstances, a body can skeletonize in ten to fourteen days.
– Caught and gutted tiger sharks have yielded the highest number of human remains found. However, the corrosive juice in the stomach of a tiger shark can dissolve bone beyond recognition in a short window of time.
– Forensic anthropologists are not medical doctors although they do hold doctorates. Their specialty is the study of the human skeleton and often can find details on human remains that a coroner or medical examiner will overlook.
– “The vibrating Stryker saw used in autopsies [is] a tool whole circular blade does not spin, but instead oscillates back and forth at high speed so that is will not cut skin, but only bone.” (Maples, pg 40).
I am only a quarter of the way through the book; this book is not for those with weak stomachs as the stories are macabre and graphic. However, I am learning so much about this field and finding a new found respect for those that practice it. I am greatly looking forward to finishing the book and engaging in a very lively conversation about its grisly contents at the next book club meeting.