I remember the first time I saw a dead body that I knew to be truly dead. I had seen my grandmother right after she died when I was five, but for some reason, I was pretty sure that she wasn't really dead; she was just tricking us all.

But when I was 14 years old, I had the opportunity to go to the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine in Houston, Texas. I was all about medicine. Either I was going to be a pediatric radiation oncologist, or a forensic scientist. I quickly realized that being a pediatric radiation oncologist wouldn't help me bring back the two I couldn't save, so I moved onto the goal of forensic science.

"Pick a field visit," our group leader said showing us the list of places we could go. M.D. Anderson and The Texas Heart Institute were just two of the places--big names. Everyone wanted to go to those and didn't care so much about the little hospitals or doctors' offices. One name leaped off the page to me. "Harris County Medical Examiner's Office," I read softly.

"You wanna go there," the leader asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh yeah, definitely, I want to be a forensic scientist."
"Alright. Anyone want to go with Sam to the coroner's office?" She looked around, and everyone stared at their feet.
"Guess it's just me," I sighed.

A few others from different groups decided to go, so there was a group of about seven of us. I was excited and nervous, not knowing what we'd see. We spent some time handling plasticized organs and learning about different diseases that they often saw in their office. We took our lunch break, and knew what was going to happen next.

We suited up in gowns and masks, tying our hair back under flimsy blue caps. Shuffling about, I always get pushed to the back. I'm the smallest, youngest member of the group, and it's very apparent.

We step into the first room, and they're just finishing an autopsy.
"Sorry kids, we're all done." There's a bit of a groan let out from some of the guys.
"Not to worry," our escort says, "we've got one just starting in room two."

We move over to the next room, and there's a black man in his forties lying on the cold steel. He looks like he's asleep--comfortable. I look him over from head to toe. His hair is a mess, a strange smirk dances across his unshaven face. He's not the right color, but I can't figure out what exactly is off about it. His fingernails are dirty and a yellowed towel lies over his groin. My gaze continues, and I see his ankles. Those sock marks that are always on my legs at the end of the day are still on his ankles. It looks like he just took them off a few minutes ago to take a nap.

"Whoa," I sigh.
"'Scuse me," the coroner says as he pushes through the crowd.

I watch intently as they make every incision, explain every organ and ask us some questions. Everything is fascinating to me, but I keep coming back to the sock marks. I wondered how he got them, and what color the socks were. I wondered where the socks were now, and who took them off of him.

"Any questions," the coroner asks looking up from the bone saw.
"I have one," I say as I raise my hand.
"Do you ever wonder who they were? You know, like before they ended up on your table."
"I used to," he said, "but then it ate me up inside. I've stopped wondering. Sometimes I make up stories about them for myself, though. Happy stories, you know? It's easier when you don't know the truth."

I still wonder where those socks are now.


Nikki said...

When we went to the cadaver lab for my EMT-B class, there were two female bodies; everyone was paying strict attention to the brains, because we were working on our geriatrics unit and they were riddled with textbook displays of alzheimer's and dementia, but I kept noticing that one woman had a pair of matching indentations in the waxy skin of her left ring finger.

I wondered all night - how long were they married? Had they had children? Did he pass first, or did she leave him behind?

And was he blessed with closure? Or did he have to keep vigil at her bedside, knowing that she no longer recognized his face and never would? That her love for him was locked away, hidden forever in the mass of ruined tissue that would eventually be passed between medical students like some vaguely-interesting show-and-tell item?

I still wonder, sometimes, too.

EE said...

Cool story.

Left ring finger indentions used to bother me...back when I actually felt shit.

RiverPoet said...

I'm not sure why people are so afraid of death, but I'm glad that you chose the coroner's office. Death is a reality.

I don't think I ever realized you were in the Houston area, but I haven't been reading you that long. I grew up in Harris County and still have family there. Hopefully they won't be in need of your services anytime soon! :-)

Peace - D

Medix311 said...

Dead bodies bother me. I mean, I can pronounce a DBA without a problem, but I can't stay in the room with the body.

I hated cadaver lab. It was just too unsettling for me.

I have a high amount of respect for those that can work with the dead. I appreciate those that can provide compassion and respect to those that have passed, and those that can ask the questions "who were you?"