Wickit Meets the Morgue

Last month, I saw my first cadaver.

I wasn’t at a funeral, or in medical school, or digging up graves. I was with two BIOME members – a biology student and a nursing student – intent on showing me how our Wickit prototype would work inside the human body. We met on the medical school campus. While I hung up my coat in the hospital morgue and donned purple latex gloves, I thought about how this is what BIOME is for: making biology accessible to any Stanford student, including Psychology majors like me.

The nursing student and I hung back and chatted about my minimal biology background (read: high school) while the biology student rooted through a tall shelf of boxes labeled based upon which human body part was inside. Eventually, he pulled down a little clear container and opened it up. Inside we found half a head and a larynx, generously donated by a man who had once been alive. My heart sped up at the sight of his perfectly formed eyelashes and the wrinkles on his forehead. The biology student told me the smell of formaldehyde was known to make people hungry. I mostly found the stench reminiscent of photography dark rooms.

The two young men went over Wickit’s function in physical detail. They took the prototype and guided it through the head and larynx, pointing out how the anatomy functioned and what concerns I should be thinking about as a member of the design team. I am involved in troubleshooting concerns we currently see with Wickit and the human body. Things like material selection, cost, how the material interacts with the body and the tube, etc. Without seeing these body parts in front of me, I doubt I could have so fully understood vocal fold trauma and other intubation-related phenomena. Furthermore, I was working in the real world. I was feeling around inside the deceased body of a man in preparation for an apparatus that may save many hospital patients from a similar fate. As I type, I am thinking through various materials that may decrease certain risks I learned about.

After our Wickit lesson, we brought down another box and went through the anatomy of two hearts. The nursing student took pride in poking through the arteries, naming them, and treating me like someone on his level. We ended our adventure with a trip to see a full cadaver. I pulled back the blue tarp, and as that formaldehyde overwhelmed my senses, I came face to face with what I am now working to improve through BIOME: human life. I saw the contours of this man’s body; his bones, his organs, his eyelids. I could imagine him alive, sitting up straight with skin on his chest. I knew in that moment that BIOME is not about a group of undergrads sitting in a room hypothesizing about what biology can do. BIOME is about getting our hands dirty and truly solving important crises, employing Stanford students from all disciplines and Stanford resources.

A Psychology student with a creative writing minor was invited into a morgue and given the full attention of two students with vast training compared to mine. I was offered this opportunity because of my motivation and interest. Not in spite of my background, but because of the creativity my background affords me in giving the issues at hand another framework. As you read this article, we not only have biologists and designers working on Wickit, but artists and filmmakers working on an educational video for Wickit. We are spreading curiosity and opportunity to be part of something big. I cannot wait for our next meeting.

Rachel Zilberg

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