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Leonardo da Vinci’s Vetruvian Man is perhaps the most iconic anatomical drawing, capturing the ideal human proportions. But da Vinci is also notorious for how he gained his knowledge of anatomy — by digging up bodies to dissect them. In the 15th century, that was the only way to see what is under the skin, to examine the bones, muscles and ligaments, supplying da Vinci the knowledge of human anatomy necessary for masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and Last Supper. Fast forward five centuries, and post mortem examination is still the gold standard for discovering what is happening under the skin. Marcia Wills, M.D., director of the autopsy service at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, calls autopsy the “ultimate examination.” It’s a chance for pathologists to explore the body in ways not possible during life, to examine every organ inside and out and to see things that may not be discovered on an X-ray or in lab results.

Popular imagination would put the autopsy suite in a dark dungeon with stainless steel walls and dim lights. It is in fact located on the fourth floor of The Vanderbilt Clinic; its pale blue walls actually give it an airy, well-lit feeling.

But it is also cluttered with reminders of what goes on inside. Plastic tubs with unidentifiable tissues swimming inside are stacked around the room. Countertops are filled with scalpels and clamps, and an electric saw rests on the floor.

And in the middle of the room, on a steel table, is the body of a 64-year-old male with a history of cardiovascular problems.  continued>>

WRITTEN BY LESLIE HAST
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DEAN DIXON
   
     
   

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