Friday, 12  April 2019

by Hafsa Omer Sulaiman, MBBS 2022

“The spike penetrated the chest wall and perforated the aortic arch; a few centimetres to the right and she may have pulled through.”

That went through my head as I was waiting in front of the anatomy lab during my first week of medical school. I had mixed feelings, on one hand this was the experience I needed, the coroner finds the cause of death and the detective finds the killer, I could practically be on Grey’s Anatomy after this. On the other hand, are these people mummies, or are they decomposing as we speak? I probably watched way too many horror movies to last me a life time. Then I looked down at my beautiful blue scrubs and I thought this is happening and my scrubs will be absolutely destroyed after this.

I held my breath and walked in. I was pleasantly surprised, apart from the cold room that feels like a refrigerator, which by the way, I did not mind at all because I like cold weather anyway, it didn’t smell like ‘formalin’ which is used to preserve these bodies or like something rotting. After a few minutes I notice these white sheets covering what I assumed were bodies. It was exactly like what you see on TV.

Then the lecturer uncovered the first body. Some scent hit my face, it wasn’t bad it was more discomforting, I had tears in my eyes and then looking down it was a real person. A real cut up person, with organs and tissues and bones. I start scanning the body and I looked at the hand and at the tips were her nails, she had pink nail gel on. That was when I made a mental note to always look after my nails and visit the nail salon more often. Then I looked at the face, this was what made it real. This person was someone’s mum dad grandma grandpa son or daughter. This is someone with a face, you might not know where they’re from or where they lived or their exact cause of death, but this person has agreed to let us as a medical student understand how the body works.

The next station had another body, this time it was a man, in his 60s, maybe older. We had a look at his lungs and to my surprise there was a tar like substance all over his lungs, lining his bronchioles and the arteries in the region. The lecturer asks what we think it was, and sure enough this guy was a smoker. We all know smoking is bad for your health and a risk factor for many diseases, but seeing that black tarry substance on this guy’s lungs made this risk all the more scarier. Then the lecturer asks us to touch it.

I look to my left and right and I see many different types of students. There are the brave ones, the shy ones, ones that get squeamish and others that can’t handle the sight of their own blood, but in that lab we had one thing in common and that was the curiousity. In that moment there was no fear. So I put my gloves on and I managed to surprise myself, I did not vomit or faint, I went in and touched the lungs and touched the tarry substance on the cadaver, it was definitely a life changing experience.

So whatever it is you’re doing at the moment, whether you’re afraid of cadavers or excited to see them, whether you’re a medical student or not, always try new things because it’ll always surprise you.