Formaldehyde and anatomy lessons

A few days ago there was an article in the papers about the leaking of formaldehyde fumes from Damien Hirst’s art exhibits at the Tate Modern in London in 2012. Damien Hirst is famous for his pickled animal exhibits in large tanks. Apparently the levels of the potentially dangerous gas that was leaking from the tanks were above the legally permitted levels. The effects of long term exposure to the gas is unclear and it is classified as a carcinogen in the United States and the European Union.

During our first year in Medical school, we had anatomy dissection classes most afternoons. It was my best time of the day and I used to look forward to it. We used to come back reeking of formaldehyde after the lessons and there were no health and safety rules in those days. I am not sure how it is these days or if anything has changed. I also used to be quite competitive in those days and wouldn’t let anyone on my dissection table near the specimens. I had a feeling that the boys would not be able to do a good job and would just wreck the specimens. Years later when we met up, they would gleefully tell me how I would threaten them with my scalpel, if anyone dared to get in my way. Anyway the boys got their revenge when two of them beat me to it and won distinctions in anatomy, whereas I missed the chance. I think that was when I lost my competitive spirit.

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