Low-wage professors battle ‘adjunctivitis’

Stefanie Botelho's picture

In a narrow waiting room at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Melissa Degezelle shimmies a plastic bin holding the stranger’s placenta into her Thermos tote. A new mother has just delivered the bloody, membranous mass, and Degezelle, today a placenta cook, will prepare it for the woman’s consumption — to “help stave off postpartum depression,” she says.

Degezelle is a 5-foot-2-inch wisp of a woman with a nonchalant bearing and Amélie haircut. She’s a poet by training but a professional dabbler by necessity: a sometime doula, women’s health counselor, medical model, placenta preparer — and an adjunct professor. For three and a half hours the previous night, she submitted to a series of pelvic exams performed by nine would-be doctors at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. At least one “had never been near a vagina,” she recalls. Her pay: $30 per medical student, for a total of $270 that evening.

Back in South Philadelphia, Degezelle washes the fresh placenta before making it into a lemon-cured ceviche and putting it through a food dehydrator, like “beef jerky,” she says. Another placenta — this one steamed, dried and ground into sand-colored capsules — is already packed into a Chinese-food takeout container for a new mom in the Germantown neighborhood. Degezelle will charge $200 for pickup, processing and delivery.

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