March 30, 2007

And They Say Pigs Are So Smart

Walking to the lunch kiosk today, I noticed one of the halls smelled strongly of a scent I hadn't sniffed since high school. It was a smell I will always and forever associate with dissecting fetal pigs.

I believe I was in 10th grade at the time, in biology class, obviously. We'd been looking forward to dissecting fetal pigs for most of the year. We were tired of dissecting worms and frogs, which we, quite frankly, considered amateur dissection projects that didn't provide us with enough biological matter to throw at one another.

But fetal pigs were another matter entirely. These things had size and heft. That, and you could manipulate their little fetal hooves so it looked like they were dancing little fetal jigs.

The fetal pigs were stored in five gallon plastic pails, filled with a liquid substance that we were assured wasn't formaldehyde. Whatever it was, it stung the nostrils like a swarm of olfactory bees. My lab partner, Chris, and I selected a nice, big, pink fetal pig from a bucket and set about pinning the pink porker down into the wax-filled dissection tray.

Quite frankly, Chris and I were very jealous of the lab pair sharing our table, because they had been selected as the only two who got to dissect a full-grown cat. That thing was AWESOME! It was all stretched out, paw to paw, with a look on its face indicating it was none too pleased at the time of its death, its mouth drawn back in a silent, eternal hiss. We named it Fluffy.

We dissected those animals for what seemed like forever, possibly weeks, meticulously locating the various systems of the body, like the digestive system, the respiratory system, the pulmonary system and so on.

When we finally got around to the nervous system, we were all itching to get done with the dissection, as we had all pretty much decided during the first week we didn't want to do it for a living. Still, I was still interested enough because I wanted to dissect the brain.

We were instructed to cut into our pig's brain, but when we did so, Chris and I were presented with something completely unexpected. Namely, our pig didn't have a brain. It had a SHELL of a brain: there was a fleshy brain-like sphere about as thin as a napkin, but there was nothing inside that sphere, except for air and whatever that stuff was that wasn't formaldehyde. It was a most perplexing development. All the other students were busy carving up their piggie brains, but there we stood, staring blankly at our pig's brain balloon.

When we finally spoke up about our brainless swine, our teacher was incredulous.

"What do you mean it doesn't have a brain? Of course it has a brain! How could it not have a brain?"

When the teacher came over to inspect our cerebrum-lacking project, he stood there for awhile, poking curiously at the brain balloon with a probe, not unlike when Darth Vader poked Obi Wan's empty cloak after striking him down.

"I've never seen anything like this," he said, and I was strangely relieved to know it wasn't a common occurence.

I was imagining an army of zombie-like brainless pigs, unknowingly being kept in farms nationwide, aimlessly bumping into fences, unable to even "oink." I couldn't help but think a brainless pig would no doubt make a noise to befit its brainless existence: something like "Drrrr" or "Duhhh."

In the end, the brainless pig was chalked up to a developmental mis-fire in the womb, and the pig, obviously, would never have survived birth, if it even lived at all during its time in the womb.

But I'm not so sure. Ever since that day, after my scalpel punctured that pig's brain balloon, exposing only air and an unknown preservative, I have my suspicions some pigs live long lives with that condition.

In fact, I don't think it's limited to pigs. It honestly helps explain a lot of the people I meet daily.

Posted by Ryan at March 30, 2007 01:26 PM | TrackBack

Mad Pig Disease!

Posted by: Stephen Rider at April 13, 2007 12:56 PM
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