The week of my one-year jaw surgery anniversary, let’s be done with this face transformation saga. Here’s my face, 11 months after my bilateral sagittal split osteotomy. (I’m on the right, for anyone who reads this but doesn’t know me personally.)
So, I’m fixed. The face has healed with minimal post-surgical irritation, and I’ve now gotten the hardware removed from the elbow I broke last December, so that’s that.
Onto the next adventure: cadavers. I recently started studying crime scene investigation, with the hopes of either working in death investigation or questioned document analysis. If I go into the latter my MA in linguistics isn’t useless after all, right? Right??
One of the classes I’m taking is aptly called Death Investigation, and my professor gave us the opportunity to view an autopsy. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but when I pictured it I imagined being behind glass in a student observation bay or something, watching from afar and avoiding all the SMELLS.
So came the day of the autopsy, and I was geeked. I wavered over what to wear, opting for my coveted hospital scrubs (that I still wear to take care of children nightly; little do they know there was DEAD PERSON BLOOD on them and that my washing machine is not all that effective).
I was told to enter through the garage off the back parking lot, which right off the bat sounds sketch. It was a funeral home that looked more like a warehouse. I texted my professor, and he sent a technician lackey out to retrieve me. I walked through the garage, opened a door, and there was a 300-lb woman, completely flayed open, neck skin inside-out and covering her face, 18 inches from me. The smell was like rotting refrigerated meat. It doesn’t matter how cold you make it in there, that smell does not come out of your nostrils for hours.
I scooted past the fatflap-covered head and quickly donned a flimsy plastic apron and shoe coverings while whispering to the previously-mentioned technician, because apparently my professor, the one performing the autopsy, is rather picky and crabby and could not be disturbed. He didn’t say a word to me the two hours I was there. I was still getting used to the smell and to staring at the body. Her arm was hanging off the table looking like a regular arm, but all of her internal organs were sliding all over the table and her legs had been haphazardly sewn up with twine post-mortem after her long bones were harvested.
My knees got weak, which greatly disappointed me, and I told myself that I would not sit down under any circumstances, unlike the other student from my class who did immediately after walking into the room, then made the excuse that it was just because “her feet were tired.”
There was another doctor working on the body, who I assume was some sort of protege/medical resident or something. He was a few years older than me, and I liked imagining him as a semi-scary tattoo artist before he started cutting bodies up for a living. He had two full sleeves and wore a black butcher’s apron, as seen in Hostel. I pulled on a mask to prevent myself from inhaling any bone bits as I watched him bone saw this woman’s skull, pry it off with a crowbar, and remove her brain with a few flicks of the scalpel. He then pulled her face forward with a snapping noise, letting it rest against her neck, and cut the brain into slices. It cut like butter. He, unlike my professor, didn’t wear any arm coverings or a mask, so his arms were covered in blood and body bits. Then he partially sewed up his barn door cut and started vaping. The smoke smelled like watermelon and was a welcome relief from the stench of rotting meat, though they didn’t go particularly well together.
The next body rolled out had succumbed to cancer and couldn’t have weighed more than 80 pounds. Her head was stuck awkwardly to the left due to rigor mortis, eyes open, staring at me with milky, flat corneas. The same medical resident/body butcher broke the rigor mortis with a snap and started making the Y-incision. The only difference with this body was that it wasn’t fresh; a greenish-blue tinge covered her entire abdomen, and when that was opened up, the meager fat was iridescent green. The smell that came out of that cut made one of the employees reel back and take a little walk around the room, stating she was “freaking out.” She went to wipe off her shoes from the last autopsy, when she had gotten blood on them and could now feel it in her socks. They removed two extremely large tumors from this tiny woman’s body, which were then photographed in great detail, and that was the end of that.
At first, I truly felt mildly traumatized by what I had experienced. The sense memory was so vivid. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to experience that again. It seemed so messy, unorganized, and the potential for contamination seemed inevitable. I could go the rest of my life without smelling that again. But now that some time has passed and I’ve had some time to process, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want to do that again, or at least work around that in some capacity. There’s nothing better for the curious than to solve a mystery, which is what death investigation is all about.
So here I am, 31, starting my 20th year of school. Despite my eye-opening autopsy experience, classes have been fulfilling. I’m learning how to do all kinds of testing and microscoping and analyzing. I get to make lab friends with teenagers. I get to watch Forensic Files and get class credit for it. I get to learn how to commit murder and get away with it.