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The Human Experience: The Human Experience

The Naming of Bones

Hester, Douglas L. MD

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doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000005933
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The Naming of Bones

The hardest part of separating another human being into teachable pieces?

Not the chemicaled skin that dulls scalpels.

Not the stare of warped pupils as your hacksaw

catches and

jerks in the


Not dicing genitals, bringing the dark parts of sex to light.

Not scraping tendon from glistening femur to find cartilage cradled

in joints at either end

the greater and lesser trochanters who wrap the neck like scarves

the tuberosities which anchor muscle

the arc of the linea aspera towards the knee.

None of that.

It’s the smell.

Embalming solutions are chosen to capture the texture of tissues

to hold the hues of purple lung and crimson liver

to plump arteries.

The scent overpowers what we pretend




Formaldehyde ethanol glycerine

they cradle each cell

whisper death is long in coming

convince the bodies nothing has changed.

The ammonia and pickle scent dulls your attention as you dissect the dead.

Sometimes, years later, your nose remembers—

on your thumb as you clear sleep from your eye or

below the clavicle of your lover—

and you recall the bones below,

their names,

and how we all are joined.

Copyright © 2022 The Author. Published by the International Anesthesia Research Society