09 February 2011


Ever wonder where you go when you're dead? Some people imagine a heaven or hell, perhaps a Limbo till it gets figured out. Other people envision a cycle of reincarnation, others approach the question with logic and realize they might be burned or stuffed in the ground. Regardless of where that permanent place is that one resides after death, the obvious truth is that once you expire, you land yourself in the morgue. And for some people, their after-life includes getting sliced open on a gurney.

Yep. Just witnessed my first autopsy today. And I'm not sure know how I feel about it.

Standing there, scrubbed up and focused, I found myself looking around the room and seeing this: A woman slicing through fascia to release organs from their captivity and plopping them into a bucket. A man working behind her on another autopsy, peeling back a man's scalp, his dreads flopping over his face as they were tugged forward. Another man standing near the door, running a knife across a sharpening rod. A woman by the sink, washing organs and then cutting through them like butter. It smelled sour.

It was weird, people. I know I'm going to be a doctor and everything... but something about the quickness, the violence, the nonchalantness of it all. It's like a different world in that autopsy room. The patients are not alive... but they look alive. They're nothing like our anatomy cadavers last year, they aren't pale and stiff. Instead, they're more like Eddie was, lying in his coffin.. young, fresh. After the Y-cut is made, you see everything - dark red muscles, bright yellow fat, blood actually pouring out when you cut through a vessel. It is shocking and awesome and terrifying.

I'm surprised I didn't vomit.

Our case was an unexpected death of a 40-something HIV positive, African American male. He was last seen at a Super Bowl party. Someone found him at home yesterday, gone. Next to him, the man with the dreads, was a younger African American male who'd hung himself while in custody - he'd shot someone last week. He had been on anti-depressants.

But these people aren't just "cases"... they're people! And I know I've already got all my issues to figure out with death and dying and the afterlife... after seeing too many friends pass away, I'm a wreck inside when it comes to that stuff. But when you see an autopsy performed... I am amazed at the people who work in the lab and do this every single day. I don't know how they do it.

We ended up not finding any gross pathology to lead us to a cause of death for the gentleman on our table, but samples were taken for microscopy and tox screens. Hopefully, his family and friends will find closure. That, after all, was why this was necessary. Right?