Recently, I attended an event called Operating Theatre Live and this consisted of a day full of talks on different aspects of the human anatomy and opportunities to dissect organs of a pig.
When I arrived at the venue after a long drive, everyone was given a stethoscope, scrubs and a face mask to prevent contamination and the spread of disease. We were also given a booklet with questions to fill in throughout the day (a tactic to ensure everyone was paying attention!).
We started the day by looking at the cranial cavity. I found the layers between the brain and the cranium bone known as the meninges particularly interesting because they were so varied in their functions. The outermost layer is the dura mater and as we were able to see during dissection, it is very tough and provides structural support for the brain. The next layer is the arachnoid mater which is sub arachnoid space filled with cerebral spinal fluids. This gives the brain its shock absorbance and distributes nutrients as it is rich in glucose. The layer closest to the brain is the pia mater which consists of thin vasculature. The dissection part, though it upset my nose, allowed the different meninges layers to be separated from each other and observed individually. I was particularly surprised by how small the brain was! The brain that my group were dissecting had lost some structural integrity and I learnt that this may be due to the brain beginning to break down after death.
After completing the brain dissection, I was grateful to have a breath of fresh air before my lunch of a sandwich and prawn and cocktail crisps (the best!). The next talk was going to be on the thoracic cavity.
Not knowing whether I should expect a bell to mark the end of lunch, I decided to not risk anything and rushed back to the hall as soon as I finished eating and arrived just in time. We started by learning about the ribs and how the last three ribs share a costal cartilage and then moved on to the heart and the lungs. When dissecting, we were able to feel how tough the trachea was and attempted to follow its path into the lungs to the very end (though this proved to be very difficult!). I was stunned by the sheer number of bronchioles that were present – there were probably hundreds, or even thousands!
Next, it was time to explore the heart. After learning the names of the various parts of the heart, we moved on to dissection. We cut the heart into horizontal sections from the bottom upwards and had to be careful to not change the orientation of any of the sections when arranging them in order. This method of dissection allowed us to see how much thicker the left wall of the heart is in comparison to the right and we could see whether the difference in thickness between the sides changes.
It was then time for dinner, after which the final session of the day on bones would be held. This session was optional, so the group sizes decreased dramatically. During this, I learnt about the structure of bones and the processes by which bones are built and broken down. However, the focus of the session was fractures and we learnt about different types of fractures such as spiral which is where twisting has occurred and compound – this is where the bone is no longer encompassed by soft tissue but is torn through it. For the dissection element, we carried out an amputation. This experience gave me insight into how strong bones are and how tendons and soft tissue play a significant role in protecting the bone from external damage.
This experience helped me understand the human body a bit more and I’m sure it will prove useful in my Biology A level as well as my medical career.