This weekend, I got an anatomy lesson at the Body Worlds exhibition called "The History of the Heart" at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The exhibition features entire human bodies and body parts that have been "pleastinated" in a process invented by a brilliant anatomist named Gunther von Hagens.
Athletes of all ages have an appreciation for his or her body, spends lots of time studying how to properly feed it and condition it, and to get it to perform and stay healthy. But unless we're medical students for take college level kinesiology dissecting human cadavers, few really get to see how the body is actually constructed. Now von Hagens has extended anatomy lessons to the masses. Two dimensional diagrams, drawings, and videos are helpful, but there's nothing like the real thing. Now I know what's been broken or strained, what feels so tired or burns.
Beyond just presenting gross anatomy, the exhibit promotes good health. And because this exhibit has an emphasis on the heart, the importance of exercise is prominent, including a wall size poster of Lance Armstrong, noting his heart is 30% larger than average, alongside a case with specimens of an average and enlarged (hypertorphied) heart. When you see all the sinewy red muscle tissue, especially in the legs, it's easier to understand why aerobic exercise can consume 85% of the heart's output.
No surprise, good nutrition was touted for good heart health. Some of the messages were subtle, others brutal. There were specimens showing peripheral artery disease in the lower leg and arteries dissected open to reveal blockages. A large poster of a juicy hamburger (a refreshing change - no commercial logo accompanied it) was above long case containing a full length cross section of a 300 lb. man showing the deadly accumulation up of the fat tissue. A label pointed to where the saw had cut his pacemaker in half.
Beyond just teaching anatomical facts and didactic lessons about healthy habits, the exhibit displays incredible artistry. Clearly,von Hagens marvels at what the living human body can do and celebrates that fact in his full body dissections. The specimens are not laying on their backs and splayed open like in post mortems, but erect, crouched, bent in beautiful actions poses. One was of a man on ice skates balancing a woman overhead. Another was of a woman pulling back a compound bow, and another of a man throwing a javelin.
On the way out of Body Worlds, I thought about the nameless specimens and felt a sense of gratitude. Though dead, they still teach us how incredible life is.
Joyful postures of specimens.