Gangrene in the Hood

I went into the soft tissue room yes I did. What is a soft tissue room you ask? Well, soft tissue is like organs and body parts covered with skin (etc). So the soft tissue portions obviously can’t just be put on a shelf because 1. it would decompose and smell, then there would be maggots, flies, beetles, who knows what 2. it won’t be preserved so it would become deformed to the point where you wouldn’t necessarily be able to recognize the specimen for what is considered valued for..so, the specimens are stored in jars, with magic liquid to keep them nice and juicy, fresh looking and preserved to look alive! Perhaps there should be a disclaimer for this particular blog. If you like the tv show Oddities or if you’ve ever been to the Body Extreme in Quincy, then proceed reading. Just kidding, it’s fine, I’ll just tell you a couple of yucky things real quick. I saw conjoined baby twins, isolated eyeballs, the inside of brains, black lungs, hearts, and so on. The most interesting specimen was a throat, so no skin just the trachea (maybe some esophagus too, not sure) cross sectioned vertically so that the inside of the trachea was showing (your “windpipe”, your breathing hole, located at the front of your neck). There was something lodged in the trachea, which ultimately asphyxiated the individual that this trachea once belonged to. It was a giant piece of steak.

That’s how they check if someone died in a fire you know. Say someone’s body was found (with flesh) in a house fire and the medical examiner wanted to know if they died from the fire or if they died some other way (like if they were murdered..because people will try to burn the evidence after they murder someone). Why do they care how the person died? Well because the medical examiner has to fill in all of the information on the death certificate. Kidding, not funny, it’s for JUSTICE! If the medical examiner finds that there is smoke in the trachea (and maybe lungs) then they know the victim likely died of smoke inhalation, too much CO2. It is clear because the trachea turns black with “soot”. If it is not black, then there needs to be further investigation because the victim stopped breathing before the fire caused them to stop breathing, potentially before the fire was started. This post is not about tracheae so I’ll stop right there.

This post is still about gross stuff though. Gangreneeeeeee! Ahhhh! Good thing gangrene isn’t contagious on dry bone. Otherwise I might not have any hands right now.

(the remedy for gangrene is often amputation, especially in Civil War specimens; it spreads, blech)

We can look at dry bone as a counterpart to soft tissue, it’s called hard tissue..bone is hard tissue, dry or wet, living or dead, covered in muscle or covered in decomposing bodily fluids. I macroscopically assessed 150 dry bones from the Civil War Collection. The bones were from in the cabinets that I mentioned in the last post. Some of them had minute forest green dots on them (visible to the naked eye), the bones’ overall condition were lightweight, flaky, porous, and utterly unhealthy. These were the gangrenous ones..sequestered and diseased (ahh so much more to say about sequestration..one word cloaca. One of the nastiest things you will ever learn about. Maybe later. You could try to Google it but it won’t come up easily.) There weren’t too many of these used for my assessment though because I focused on bones that have undergone trauma, not disease. But to make this (as close to) a truly random selection I had some in my study.

How did I perform this study? Well I’ll spare you the education-based details..in a simplified sense.. I took a notebook, and I wrote down descriptions of each bone. Later, on the train ride back to VA I checked my work and applied the scoring system I developed to assess the appearance of the injured bone. But how did I get back to the train? Oh, that’s right..I didn’t take the bus. Instead my fellow nerds showed me the way to walk to a metro stop via a run down residential neighborhood with a school..one that they warned me I SHOULD NOT WALK THROUGH BY MYSELF. I did though, every morning and some late afternoons, it was dangerous. Kind of like most stops on the Orange T line. The train station was a great potential snatching ground conveniently located at the absolute end of the red line. I bought this sweet leather bracelet from a Cambodian woman though. Made in Cambodia and sent to her store in Silver Springs. The store was ethnically awesome.

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