That Time I Held a Severed Human Arm

For those of my readers who are squeamish, queasy or any of those other funny adjectives, this may be a good post to skip. You have been warned.

Long, long ago, when I was just a senior in high school, I took AP Biology, a college-level science course. It was fantastic. The other students and I were privileged to visit a cloud forest, travel to the Galápagos Islands, dissect fetal pigs and witness the dismemberment of a deceased human being.

Well, I suppose the removal of a single arm can hardly be called dismemberment, but I digress.

One fair morning I and the other students in AP Biology took a field trip to a local university. We were scheduled to meet a professor who would give us a guided tour of the human body using the university’s resident cadaver as a visual aid. (A cadaver is a corpse used for official purposes, such as police investigation or medical research.) The professor’s lecture would be a vital part of our scientific education, or so we were told by our teacher.

The plan was for us to enjoy Part One of the professor’s lecture in the morning, head back to school for our afternoon classes and return to the university the next day for Part Two.

We arrived at the university and filed into the laboratory to find the professor waiting for us. I don’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Dr. Frankenstein. A cadaver was stretched out on a slab. Dr. F’s assistant, whom I’ll call Igor, was bustling around the lab.

Dr. F had an interesting way of lecturing. The cadaver had been emptied of its organs; as in those Mummy movies, the organs were kept in jars. As Dr. F lectured, he took out the organs from their jars and put them back into the cadaver to show us where they belonged.

The lecture ended. Dr. F departed to teach a class, leaving Igor to put away the cadaver. As we watched, Igor removed the various organs from the cadaver and put them back in their jars. Then he detached the cadaver’s arm.

I was, I freely admit, a little shaken by this. Arms are usually attached more permanently. It was unnerving to see a cadaver disarmed—forgive the pun—so casually.

I was one of only two male students in my class. The other male student, whom I’ll call Socrates, was standing beside me when Igor pointed at him and asked, “Would you please help me put away the cadaver?”

Igor and Socrates hoisted the cadaver onto a stretcher, carried it into a back room and lifted it into its niche, leaving me to wipe the anxious perspiration from my brow and contemplate how close I’d come to the awful experience of carrying around a corpse.

The other students and I went back to school with our teacher. Next morning we returned to the university for the second part of the lecture. When we arrived, Dr. F was running late and Igor was still in the process of setting up the cadaver and its organ jars.

“Could you please help me get out the cadaver?” asked Igor, pointing at Socrates. I breathed a sigh of relief, only for Igor to add, “Oh, and could you reach into the niche and get the arm?”

The second request was very clearly directed at me. I had no choice but to reach into the niche (wearing gloves and a lab coat, of course) and retrieve the missing arm.

Alas, there is no photographic evidence of this event. I wish a photo could’ve been taken of me with the arm—one of those “Hey, look at this big fish I caught!” pictures—but the incident went unrecorded.

Dr. F arrived, gave the second part of the lecture and left. So did the other students and I, before Igor could request assistance from any of us.

I have many great memories from that AP Biology class. I’ve already written a post about one. Others I may post someday on this blog: That Time I Met a Wild Penguin and That Time I Saw a Hummingbird Wearing Go-Go Boots, to name but two.

However, of all the memories from AP Biology, That Time I Held a Severed Human Arm is one of my favorites. It’s certainly my favorite story to tell—as my longsuffering friends and relatives can testify.


This post was originally published on February 24, 2012. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

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