Visiting Your Leg

November 29, 2016
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When I met the retired ballerina Toni Bentley at a reception in 2008, and she found out that I am a historian and philosopher of anatomy, she told me enthusiastically about how she had boiled her hip bone in a soup pot. Well, bones, really. The surgeon who had replaced Bentley’s dance-scarred, arthritic right hip with an artificial one had taken it out in pieces, as removal requires. In advance of the procedure, Bentley had convinced him to give her back the parts. The surgeon thought the request strange, but Bentley later recalled: ‘I suppose I thought that in keeping the bone after it was removed I was losing less somehow.’

Once Bentley got the chunks home, floating in a Tupperware container of fluid, she had to get the fleshy bits off, and dry out the skeletal remains; she wanted to be able to lay out her bones in the plain air. Not sure how to do this, she dialled a local taxidermist. He explained in a cheery voice that this was an easy DIY project. At his instructions, she boiled her bones in water for an hour, drained them in a colander, soaked them in cold water for half an hour, drained them again, immersed them in a solution of bleach and water, and then let them dry in the sun.

As someone who has spent a fair bit of time hanging out in anatomy museums, I found Bentley’s tale perfectly delightful. I sensed that the third person standing with us at that reception didn’t. Perhaps it was because a waitress kept coming around to offer us bits of meat on a toothpick.

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