By the time we had arrived at the mortuary the intestines and other glistening organs were already in a large metal bowl, quivering everytime another part was thrown in. Not long ago they were living, functioning and keeping someone alive but were now a fatty wobbly jelly .
It was not the ideal first post-mortem for students to see. This particular person hadn’t been seen for a while before being found. The smell was not how I imagined, I can only describe it as almost “foody” and it’s ingrained in my memory. The table was stainless steel, shaped into a shallow basin with a sink and plug hole at one end and our distance to it was a compromise between being close enough to see and far back enough for the smell to be bearable.
Post-mortems are usually performed when the cause of death is unclear so the pathologist’s task is to find out what happened regardless of whether the person passed away yesterday or a few weeks ago. The pathologist analyses the body and organs and the cause can then be written on the death certificate.
Mortuary technicians seem to do most of the preparation, organ removal, ‘closing up’ and cleaning and although they aren’t doctors, they are incredibly skilled in human anatomy. As our technician continued to cut or rip flesh and organs from their rightful places – with noises akin to horror movie material, I found it difficult to balance their actions against the respect that they obviously had for the bodies.
It reminded me of when a friend once said: “Thank goodness for people like you who study to become doctors.” I replied that he could easily have gone down the same route as me but his reply was: “I’m talking about the horrible things you have to see.”
I really don’t mind the ‘seeing’ and after dissection classes nor do I mind the idea of being around dead bodies but perhaps pathology is not for me. I’m sure there could be days where I’d enjoy aspects of pathology particularly the investigative parts and be inspired by a career in pathology but today wasn’t one of them.