Friday, May 8, 2009

A stiff tribute to moms & cadavers

I was eager to read Michael Perry’s recent
Men’s Health article about human cadaver donation for two reasons: First, Perry’s a terrific writer who’s flattered me by saying nice things about my work. Funny how that makes us all more charitable in our opinions of one another’s abilities.

But Perry, author of “Population 485,” “Truck,” and the recently released “Coop,” is the kind of writer that makes me glad I never mastered speed reading. His are sentences to savor. I wanted to see how he crafted his gems around the squeamish topic of people who donate their bodies to medical schools so future doctors can dissect the corpses for essential education.

But the main reason was because I’m on intimate terms with a genuine human cadaver. Don’t jump to any necrophiliac conclusions.

The girl’s not dead yet. But she’s pledged to become one.

She’s my darling white-haired mother. Her sense of humor has always reminded me of Carol Burnett’s. She’s sweet, warm and few things make me happier than the sound of her infectious laughter bubbling up when one of her enchanted granddaughters is cradled in her arms.

And nothing creeps me out more than to realize that one day some wisecracking, hungover med student is going to be poking through her exposed thoracic cavity while she lies naked and deader than hell on some cold examination table. This is a dainty and demure woman who gets upset when I insist to my daughters that Nana has a tattoo of Sponge Bob Square Pants on her ass and that she’ll deny it’s there.

And deny it, she does.

I realize my discomfort over her donation is at odds with the generous philosophy she and my Dad bestowed on their two sons. It’s because of them that Eric and I are enthusiastic organ donors. I think leaving my organs behind to enrich ailing strangers will one day inspire my daughters into forgiving me for leaving them with nothing but an old golf bag full of bent tees and expired coupons.

My fun-loving late father could be a bit of a cad, but he never went the full cadaver. His remains were cremated. I put my portion in a decorative wine decanter and decoupaged it with pictures of him and our loved ones.

If I’m going to play at a nice golf course or visit the beach, I always take some with me to scatter on some lovely vista. He likes that, I’m sure.

But, Mom, my goodness, what am I going to do about her? There will be nothing left to eulogize.

Perry’s article confirms my fears that precious little reverential decorum is present as they dig about (some are gloveless -- gloveless!) in the bodies to learn that the legbone’s connected to the hipbone, the hipbone’s connected to the . . .

I’m sure the banter’s tempered whenever an observant reporter is present. It’s always been my suspicion that the first thing medical teams do once the anesthesia kicks in is lift the blanket and make juvenile fun of everyone’s genitalia.

Well, not my genitalia.

Perry stresses the importance of cadaver donation as essential in helping solve many of the medical problems that once bedeviled us and kept lives uniformly short.

“One way or another, the dead people here are substituting for you and me,” he writes. “If you are healthy and hope to stay that way, at some point you will rely on the services of medical professionals who learned their craft by cutting into a cadaver.”

He writes movingly of services where those who make this generous sort of donation are eulogized and praised for their selflessness.

I’m for all of that . . . But leave my Mommy alone!

The article makes clear that the cadaver examinations are painstakingly thorough. They go through all the internal organs, tease out the nerves in the legs, and slice away at the body until these once vital beings are nothing but memories and scattered pieces of bone and tissue.

My mother’s dear self-deprecating humor makes me wonder if she ever believes me when I tell her how much I love her, how much she means to me and how grateful I’ve been to have gone through life with her as my friend.

No relationship is so simultaneously simple and complicated as the relationship between mother and child. We can never repay all they’ve done for us. All we can do is be kind and patient as we all march along together toward our messy mortal conclusions.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I hope you are at peace with your mother and any difficulties involved in that complicated relationship are overshadowed by the majesty of it all.

And I hope it’s many healthy and productive years before my own mother winds up in pieces.


Eric said...

Wow, great post in so many ways. I chuckled, I shivered, and I worried. If this is an example of how you always write, I need to go find one of your books. Great storytelling with a purpose.

Chris Rodell said...

Thanks so much Eric. I'm happy to have you as a reader. I'd advise you to hold off on your kind impulse to buy one of my books. They aren't in this vein at all. But I'll be grateful if you'll say a short fast prayer that one of the two I'm pitching now will get an agent who'll shepherd them to successful publication.

Those are more in line with this stuff.

It's a real pleasure when an stranger like yourself wanders onto the blog and finds something he likes enough to stand up and testify in the followers box.

I'll look forward to your future comments and understand I need to keep it interesting to justify your readership.

Have a great weekend, my friend.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Moms and cadavers. I think you're the only person I know who'd put those two subjects together in an essay...and somehow make it work. :)

Anonymous said...

:D Great post, Chris. And indeed a lovely way you say it!

Anonymous said...

My uncle told me a few years ago that he had decided to donate his body, but I never gave much thought to what that meant, nor what it entailed. After reading Michael Perry's article and your essay I will look at this differently. Still not knowing how I feel about it, though.

Chris Rodell said...

Thanks you guys for reading. You're the best!

And thanks to Ellison Bay Pottery for checking in. I have the same mixed feelings. I'm a full organ donor, but I'm hopeful I'll leave a relic or two for my kids to one day mourn (or desecrate depending on their opinion of my fathering).

I hope it's many happy years before you have to come to grips with your uncle's generous decision.