Thanatophobia

Besides the torso, the cadaver was completely covered.  Nothing is stranger than studying a dead person, let alone just its torso.  Ours was an older male that reeked of formaldehyde.

I glanced around the room as the professor explained the goals of today’s dissection.  The class was almost 50/50 males and females.  Some were dawning a brand new lab coat with their name embroidered as if their reputation preceded them–others were sporting an old off-white coat that they probably used throughout undergrad.  (I fell in the latter category.)

No face wore the same expression–I saw arrogance, apprehension, exhaustion–but in all of them, I saw excitement.

I gathered around my assigned cadaver along with my three group partners.  I touched the cold skin just under his clavicle, the sensation between me and this man muted by a flimsy latex glove.   The blonde beside me had already seized the scalpel.

Cats, pigs, frogs…those are all easy things to dissect.  I sliced them and diced them like nobody’s business, gawking at their gallbladders and examining their brains.  I was that kid in my high school anatomy class who liked to pull things apart and see what they were made of.

But cats and pigs and frogs are not people.  They look nothing like people and lead lives unlike people and, most importantly, are not people.  Their hearts were cat hearts and pig hearts and frog hearts.  Their hearts were not this man’s heart.

The professor hadn’t given us any kind of background information on our cadavers other than gender and age.  Sixty-two seemed too young to be anatomized by students.  I asked Dr. Wú about the cause of death–he shrugged his shoulders before turning to help a group in the far corner.

How old would I be before I was doused in phenol and cut open by my descendants?  I shivered and involuntarily took a step back from the table.  Matthew shot a worried look in my direction.

“I’m okay,” I reassured him.

But I’m not, I thought.  My limbs started to tingle as if I were as bloodless as the dead body in front of me.  I was laying in the pitch-black perpetual darkness between the crust and the mantle and the worms were burrowing into every crevice of my body all slimy and leaving behind bits of dirt, the same dirt I was buried in…alive, I’m alive but rotting, just another thing to decompose deader than dirt, I am the dirt, just dirt now and I–

Jumped when a book hit the floor.  My group didn’t seem to notice my reaction as they plunged through the pectoral muscles.

What’s wrong with me? I thought angrily.  “Here, let me help,” I asserted, taking the scalpel from Julianne.  It was time to get to the heart of this issue.

I peeled back layers of muscle, Julianne worked through the ribs and sternum.  After what seemed like forever, I finally saw it, poised between two black lungs…my heart

Stopped.  White as a ghost, I calmly set the scalpel on the table.  Without a word, I rolled my gloves off and marched past my peers toward the set of double doors.

 

 

 

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