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Archive for Friday, May 12, 1995

STILL KEEPING EXTRACTED WISDOM TEETH? YOU ARE NOT ALONE

May 12, 1995

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A co-worker's operation is a reminder that keeping body parts and organs after surgery is a centuries-old custom.

Last week, our education reporter, Peter, found himself doubled up with stomach cramps so severe he summoned an ambulance for a quick ride to Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

A couple of days later, his ailment was diagnosed -- gall stones. The remedy: Taking out the offending stones and gall bladder.

Since his diagnosis, those of us in the office have speculated on how long it would take Peter to talk a nurse into saving his gall bladder in a Zip-lock baggie so he could bring it to work for a morbid version of show-and-tell.

It's something Peter would do.

But it wouldn't be the first time someone has stowed away body parts for future use.

The Plains Indians did it. The Chinese did it. And an art teacher I met in Kansas City a few years back did it.

The story goes that soon after a Plains Indian baby had sucked in its first breath, a knife would be brandished and its umbilical cord cut. But unlike us modern-day heathens who toss the cords away, the Indians stuffed the cord inside a beaded pouch shaped like a turtle or lizard. The pouch served as a charm and was hung from the top of the baby's cradleboard.

That's one of the lessons taught by the current "Feathers and Fibers" exhibit at Kansas University's Museum of Anthropology.

The museum has one of those good-luck pouches on display, but there's no way to tell if there's a 100-year-old umbilical cord tucked inside. I don't think I really want to find out.

The Chinese didn't have turtle-shaped amulets, but they did have an interesting take on the hereafter. When a person went into the next world, they believed he would have only those body parts that accompanied him to his grave.

So, if Uncle Maury got his leg hacked off during a fight with a samurai, the leg would be saved in a pickling solution and eventually buried with him. And, as a result, Maury would be able to go running and kicking into the great beyond.

Then there's this guy I was introduced to in Kansas City -- an art teacher with a lovely wife and lovely kids and a lovely ranch house in a middle-class neighborhood. Lovely people ... well, until he took me on a tour of their house.

We eventually ended up in the basement, which had shelving lined with various sizes of ceramic pots and glass jars. Being a pottery nut, I went to investigate. My mistake was lifting off the top of a brown-colored pot and looking inside.

It was full on toenail clippings!

All of them were -- rows and rows of pots and jars jammed with little, crescent-shaped snippets.

I didn't stay much longer in their lovely home, and as I walked down their lovely sidewalk I wondered where he had stashed the hair that used to cover the bald spot on his head.

So, Peter, if you're scheming to save your gall bladder and its slimy little stones, go ahead. It's nothing new; it seems to be in our genes to do so.

But if you're planning on toting them to the office, don't. I think it's safe to say your colleagues won't appreciate that sort of body language.

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