Monday, May 26, 2008

First Cut

[*Warning*: Human dissection described]

“You do the honors, Maddie," Rakesh said.

She weighed the scalpel in her hand. Its blade cut the light.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing . . . ”

Her lab goggles fogged. Three white forms hazed into ghosts.

“That’s okay. He’s dead.”

But I’m not.

Maddie licked her lips. Tasted fixative.

The scalpel sliced through the cheddar skin medial to the scapula. Easy. No blood.

Her hand stopped shaking at the third incision.

“Reflect the skin laterally to reveal the trapezius muscle,” Jeanine read from her nose. The formaldehyde claimed everything. Their hair. Sweat.

The salt of the tongue.

She pinched the skin flap between her fingers, and pulled. It resisted. The man had donated his body, but was stubborn about its secrets. She leaned back, squinting with effort.

And heard the dermis rip free.

Maddie caught herself on her heels. Yellow faschia drew into fibers, recalling the rubber cement she had played with as a child. The muscle underneath sat like expired meat.

“Like that?”

Freckles collared his neck. She could connect the dots, but the larger picture would elude her. A plastic bag concealed his face and hair, but Maddie knew he was a redhead from the growth on the mortised legs and arms. She tried to forget that a redhead has a lower threshold for pain.


“Perfect. You’re a pro, Maddie.”

She shrugged, but was pleased. She liked Rakesh. He wanted his doctor dream.

She wasn’t so sure. That bag—

“Now detach the trapezius from its origin at the superior nuchal line, and reflect it laterally,” Jeanine instructed.

The manual contributed to the ritual’s careful distance. A body is a universal country. Reproducible borders and flags. Except for the sexual organs. They’d have to look at a female cadaver when the time came.

Maddie coughed.

Her nose itched, too.

“It’s reflected,” she said.

Maddie handed off the muscle to Marcus, while the others scraped at the pearly scapula.

She lifted her goggles, searching for the clock. And counted the seconds until she might reach free air.

One . . . two . . . th--

"Awesome," Marcus cheered.


How many cuts until she nicked this dead man's heart?

“Maddie, check it out," said Rakesh, his teeth as brilliant as the scalpel. "Pretty wild, huh?”

The muscles of her face contracted into a smile. She replaced her goggles, her neck dipping toward the table.

Trying to accommodate this bag of her choosing.

Just breathe.

[Photo courtesy of Travis Rhoades]


Vesper said...

Sarah, I admit I had some trouble reading this, while inside me admiration for your talent fought with the repulsion at the deep realism of this piece.
I believe it is a very good piece...

Anonymous said...

Wow, Sarah. Excellent piece!

I've never had the experience (although I wish I had). Now, in many ways, I feel like I know some of what it's like to be in that dissection room. And to feel that terrible tension between duty and revulsion.

What a treat to see the emotional intelligence in your writing mixing with a gritty, even unpleasant moment. :)

Sarah Hina said...

Sorry, Vesper! I understand the "ick" factor here, and added a warning. I tried to keep it realistic, if not gratuitous. But your repulsion is well-founded.

Thanks for the kind words, though. :) This piece is something different for me.

I think you'd really embrace the experience, Jason. You have a great curiosity, and tenacity. :)

The revulsion passes (although the formaldehyde lingers). But my discomfort in identifying with the person in front of me never did. A student, and physician, needs distance. But my writer's mind always wondered about the terrain of his life, even as I was grateful for the gift he made in death.

Aine said...

Oh. Wow. You've captured a reality that many people will never experience, but often wonder about: the fantasy of medical school, the truth of becoming a physician. Maybe you should write a novel about that...

"Cheddar skin"-- exactly!! How formaldehyde transforms an environment. And the humanity that you couldn't escape-- perfect!

I think those who cannot distance themselves fully make the best physicians. The art of practicing medicine is so often overlooked.

Thanks for sharing your experience as only a writer could.

Sarah Hina said...

Thanks, Aine! I'm sure you could add some details of your own. :)

I have incorporated the medical school angle into a longer work before, but as somewhat of a subplot. You're right that there is a powerful dichotomy between the fantasy/reality of becoming a doctor. It deserves exploration.

And I do believe that people who struggle with the distancing issue often make the most sensitive, holistic physicians. As long as they want it so badly that the struggle is worth it. Thank goodness such people exist!


Beth said...

I don't have a weak stomach. Slice and dice, I'm fine with it all. If you like this kind of thing and you're not watching it already, I recommend Showtime's Dexter.

Abhinav said...

You remind me of my first dissection, which was done while discussing Indian politics and whether Kashmir belonged to India or Pakistan and such stuff to keep us from passing out of sheer nervousness. And I love the dramatic realism!

(My connection is worse than Eldin's and I envy her the fact that she can at least blog and comment. I can't even do that. My bloody connection takes 15 minutes to get to my mail. Takes the fizz out of surfing, you know.)

Sarah Hina said...

Thanks, Beth. I checked out the first five minutes of Dexter once, but honestly couldn't take it. I have heard good things about it, though.

At least you guys attempted good conversation, Abhinav! I wasn't capable of much, I'm afraid. Of course, it soon became routine (as much as possible, anyway).

And I am so happy to see you here again! I'm sorry you're stuck with a bad connection. I've missed your voice. :)