Mary Roach · 320 pages
Rating: (138K votes)
“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.”
“It is astounding to me, and achingly sad, that with eighty thousand people on the waiting list for donated hearts and livers and kidneys, with sixteen a day dying there on that list, that more then half of the people in the position H's family was in will say no, will choose to burn those organs or let them rot. We abide the surgeon's scalpel to save our own lives, out loved ones' lives, but not to save a stranger's life. H has no heart, but heartless is the last thing you'd call her.”
“The human head is of the same approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan.”
“You are a person and then you cease to be a person, and a cadaver takes your place.”
“Death. It doesn't have to be boring.”
“Here is the secret to surviving one of these [airplane] crashes: Be male. In a 1970 Civil Aeromedical institute study of three crashes involving emergency evacuations, the most prominent factor influencing survival was gender (followed closely by proximity to exit). Adult males were by far the most likely to get out alive. Why? Presumably because they pushed everyone else out of the way.”
“Sharing a room with a cadaver is only mildly different from being in a room alone.
They are the same sort of company as people across from you on subways or in airport lounges, there but not there. Your eyes keep going back to them, for lack of anything more interesting to look at, and then you feel bad for staring.”
“One young woman's tribute describes unwrapping her cadaver's hands and being brought up short by the realization that the nails were painted pink. "The pictures in the anatomy atlas did not show nail polish", she wrote. "Did you choose the color? Did you think that I would see it? I wanted to tell you about the inside of your hands. I want you to know you are always there when I see patients. When I palpate an abdomen, yours are the organs I imagine. When I listen to a heart, I recall holding your heart.”
“You do not question an author who appears on the title page as "T.V.N. Persaud, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc., F.R.C.Path. (Lond.), F.F.Path. (R.C.P.I.), F.A.C.O.G.”
“The point is that no matter what you choose to do with your body when you die, it won't, ultimately, be very appealing. If you are inclined to donate yourself to science, you should not let images of dissection or dismemberment put you off. They are no more or less gruesome, in my opinion, than ordinary decay or the sewing shut of your jaws via your nostrils for a funeral viewing.”
“I walk up and down the rows. The heads look like rubber halloween masks. They also look like human heads, but my brain has no precedent for human heads on tables or in roasting pans or anywhere other than on top of a human bodies, and so I think it has chosen to interpret the sight in a more comforting manner. - Here we are at the rubber mask factory. Look at the nice men and woman working on the masks.”
“It's the reason we say "pork" and "beef" instead of "pig" and "cow." Dissection and surgical instruction, like meat-eating, require a carefully maintained set of illusions and denial.”
“There wasn't an anhydrous lacrimal gland in the house, writes the author in all seriousness describing a memorial service for a medical school's cadavers.”
“There, just beyond his open palm, was our mother’s face. I wasn’t expecting it. We hadn’t requested a viewing, and the memorial service was closed-coffin. We got it anyway. They’d shampooed and waved her hair and made up her face. They’d done a great job, but I felt taken, as if we’d asked for the basic carwash and they’d gone ahead and detailed her. Hey, I wanted to say, we didn’t order this. But of course I said nothing. Death makes us helplessly polite.”
“I agree with Dr. Makris. Does that mean I would let someone blow up my dead foot to help save the feet of NATO land mine clearers? It does. And would I let someone shoot my dead face with a nonlethal projectile to help prevent accidental fatalities? I suppose I would. What wouldn't I let someone do to my remains? I can think of only one experiment I know of that, were I a cadaver, I wouldn't want anything to do with. This particular experiment wasn't done in the name of science or education or safer cars or better-protected soldiers. It was done in the name of religion.”
“Entomologists have a name for young flies, but it is an ugly name, an insult. Let's not use the word "maggot." Let's use a pretty word. Let's use "hacienda.”
“There wasn't an anhydrous lacrimal gland in the room...”
“So animated are these freestanding hearts that surgeons have been known to drop them. “We wash them off and they do just fine,” replied New York heart transplant surgeon Mehmet Oz when I asked him about it. I imagined the heart slipping across the linoleum, the looks exchanged, the rush to retrieve it and clean it off, like a bratwurst that’s rolled off the plate in a restaurant kitchen.”
“I like the term "decedent." It's as though the man weren't dead, but merely involved in some sort of protracted legal dispute. For evident reasons, mortuary science is awash with euphemisms. "Don't say stiff, corpse, cadaver," scolds The Principles and Practice of Embalming. "Say decedent, remains or Mr. Blank. Don't say 'keep.' Say 'maintain preservation.'…"Wrinkles are "acquired facial markings." Decomposed brain that filters down through a damaged skull and bubbles out the nose is "frothy purge.”
“If you lower your head to within a foot or two of an infested corpse (and this I truly don’t recommend), you can hear them feeding. Arpad pinpoints the sound: “Rice Krispies.” Ron frowns. Ron used to like Rice Krispies.”
“And ever since, the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle, knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready.”
“The researchers concluded that during intercourse in the missionary position, the penis “has the shape of a boomerang.”
“Ka was the essence of teh person: spirit, intelligence, feelings and passions, humor, grudges, annoying television theme songs, all the things that make a person a person and not a nematode.”
“With the rise of classical Greece, the soul debate evolved into the more familiar heart-versus-brain, the liver having been demoted to an accessory role. We are fortunate that this is so, for we would otherwise have been faced with Celine Dion singing "My Liver Belongs to You" and movie houses playing The Liver Is a Lonely Hunter. Every Spanish love song that contains the word corazon, which is all of them, would contain the somewhat less lilting higado, and bumper stickers would proclaim, "I [liver symbol] my Pekingese.”
“I guess I feel the same way about being a corpse. Why lie around on your back when you can do something interesting and new, something useful?”
“Whereas the larger caliber .45 Colt revolver bullets caused the cattle to drop to the ground after three or four shots, the animals shot with smaller caliber .38 bullets failed even after ten shots to drop to the ground. And ever since the U.S. Army has gone confidently into battle knowing that when cows attack, their men will be ready.”
“Sometimes you don't know what you want until you just do. It hits you like a wave, knocks you underwater, and when you surface, all you want is this one thing. It's like gasping for air.”
“Prefiero la palidez de este muerto andante al color del mundo entero. Prefiero demorarme y morir en su palidez que vivir a la luz de todos los vivos.”
“Remember,” Mr. Johnston says, “nothing is exactly as it appears. The closer you look, the more you see.”
“Love yourself, love the people around you, and never give up. If you need help, reach out. If you’re drowning, make some noise. There are people who love you, who will throw you a life preserver. That’s what it all comes down to, love. That’s how we’re gonna get through this. And we are gonna get through this.”
“You love me," Abby says, smiling.
Jess leans forward. "Yeah, I really do. This isn't our Romeo and Juliet moment. You're going to be okay. No one is dying.
"No, it's the end. I want a goodbye kiss.”
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