Following on from my visit to the Post Mortem live event, I attended another event also entertaining and educating the public with post mortems – this one was run by Suzy Lishman CBE who has conducted hundreds, if not thousands of post mortems and the event was part of a tour to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Royal College of Pathologists. A little different from the previous event.
The two events were really chalk and cheese.
The audience was different – its hard to put your finger on what was different. This audience were maybe more professional, older, more couples rather than groups of young people. This audience looked more like the sort of people you would expect to give up a mid week evening to attend the Royal College of Surgeons, the previous audience looked like people who went to a budget hotel on the outskirts of town. (something to remember with public engagement – just because you open your doors to the public does not mean a cross section of the public walks in, sometimes you need to go to your audience)
Fifteen minutes in and it was made clear that there were no human parts being used in this event (there were a couple of museum pieces on a table behind but that was unusual for events in this tour). It wasn’t explain why, other than stating that that clearly wasn’t appropriate. Everyone seemed to agree.
They did have a model human, but in the same way that Kate Moss is a model. When the body was uncovered the person beside me commented on how real it looked just before they revealed it was actually a real person. They had apparently had someone freak out at an earlier event when the person sat up at the end and so now felt the need to tell the audience that this was a real person. This person was drawn on to show the typical incisions which were explained in detail, drawing attention to the fact that all of the incisions could be concealed so that the fact the body had gone through the post mortem process did not need to be seen. A general thread of respect that ran through this event and was missing from the previous one.
Suzy Lishman went through all of her tools, explained all the different sort of pathologists, explained she wasn’t like silent witness or Quincey and then went through what she would be looking for in each organ, the common points of failure in the human body. She spent over two hours taking us on a detailed description of what she does everyday at her work. It was fascinating. It wasn’t dressed up to be anything it wasn’t. It is what she is trained to do and does for a living.
She talked about the texture of the brain, the slicing of every organ, the reason they don’t cut the top of the head straight off but leave a little upturn at the back. She could have made it sensational – but she didn’t – because it’s not appropriate.
In the questions at the end she was asked whether she had seen any surprising things. She said she had seen some truly amazing things but they were so amazing it might be possible to identify the person and therefore she wouldn’t be talking about them.
The thing that struck me is that this is a person who deals with dead bodies for a living. They have an inbuilt sense of what is appropriate and what is not. They can still make the human body fascinating because their own passion shines through. There is no need to dress it up as something it is not or to sensationalise it in any way. The body is amazing and we should appreciate it for what it is.
At a fifth of the price of the other post mortem event this is where you should go if you want to learn about post mortems. If you want to dissect organs then there are other events for that that make it clear they are using by products of the animal food industry.