Something I have been dreaming of since probably Junior High happened today and I felt the need to blog about it. Probably not a good blog title/opening line combo, right? Probably got your attention though, eh?
We are good friends with the Andelin's up here. Sam works at the hospital and has done some shifts in the ER so that's how we met. He loves golf about as much as Tanner so they were big golfing buddies last year and will be soon enough again. Anyway - Sam's dad is a pathologist at the hospital. I really can't remember how young I was, probably too young to think about this kind of stuff, but for a really long time during my adolescence I wanted to be a pathologist, or a coroner, or whoever I needed to be so I could do autopsies on people. I had a strange fascination with the human body and how it works and how it malfunctions, not necessarily "death". I still do, actually. My childhood logic was I'd get to know all the cool stuff and do all the cool stuff without worrying about killing anyone. I investigated it in college a little but then just ended up going down a different path. Which I'm completely happy with, but I never got to witness an autopsy. When I found out Sam's dad was a pathologist I asked if he did autopsies and he said he did and I told him to ask him if I could ever come along to watch. He's asked me a few times but I always have to work. Late last night he texted me and said his dad would be doing one this morning out in Sidney, MT (about an hr from here). PERFECT! I was so excited, I couldn't sleep, and even had nightmares of getting called into work and work meetings so I had to miss it. Luckily none of that happened.
I got to the funeral home and asked for Dr. Andelin and they took me back through all the coffins for sale, into a back room where there was an older lady getting her make-up done. Then into the very back room where the doctor was and two other men - one from the sheriff's department and the other one was the embalmer - the one who got to put back all the pieces when it was all said and done. I don't know what I expected. But it probably wasn't what I saw. Just laying out in the open was a young, fit looking male. He had been in a rollover accident yesterday morning, and pronounced dead on the scene. I don't know if it was the sheriff's people or the family that requested the autopsy, but they were just looking to see if they would find some sort of trauma that would explain the cause of death or if it was just suffocation from him being upside down in the truck with a huge snow bank bashed in the front windshield.
I had anatomy lab with cadavers in college and have seen plenty of anatomy pictures and human bodies and even death in the ER, but it was still so weird for my brain to see him there - looking so human still - and having the front of his rib cage torn completely off of him. Looking at his face and then down to his open abdominal cavity was tripping me out. I was swaying between utter fascination and very disturbed during the whole thing. It took about an hour and a half to do everything he needed to do. I got to glove and gown up and get very up close and personal. He was really healthy and young and had great anatomy so it was very cool that way. It was amazing and crazy holding his lungs and heart and thinking it was only beating 48 hrs ago. I got to cut open his kidneys and just explore everything. Dr. Andelin was great at pointing things out and explaining what they look for if they suspected this or that. Everything smelled weird - like strange, horrible poop. It seemed to get worse once he opened the stomach and all the contents of what he last ate spilled out. They have to check the stomach to see if they've ingested pills or anything like that. After he took little samples of each major organ and had finished examining it, everything went into a big biohazard bag. I asked the embalmer what they did with all of it after and how they closed him up. He said after he injects the embalming stuff into him, everything in the bag stays in the bag and goes back inside the abdominal cavity. Weird. He was telling me about someone down south that got lazy and would just dump the organs out into the river. Until one day someone was fishing and thought they had caught a big fish. Turned out it was just a big bag of entrails. Someone got sued.
They almost weren't going to do the head, but then decided they better
because he did have some facial trauma - and just to be complete. I was
happy about that. They had to use quite a bit of force to peel back the scalp. And once the saw came out to remove part of the skull it smelled like the dentist, but 50x worse. The brain was amazing. He showed me where it connected to the spinal cord and where the pituitary gland sits and you could see where all the cranial nerves came out. He made a few slices and you could see the white and gray matter so clearly. It was so incredible to hold that squishy thing in my hands and think - this...this is what makes our bodies work and think and move and feel. The body is so incredibly complex and mysterious and amazing and unique! I still feel like I'm on some weird scientific high from all of it.
I told a couple of my friends today and they asked me if things like that bother me, or make me think of death in my own life. I realized working in this field, especially the ER has kind of made me used to death and disease and dying. It's always sad - more for the families that lose someone. And especially with kids or young adults that would have had a whole, hopefully wonderful life ahead of them. But it's just a job. Which is I'm sure how Dr. Andelin feels. Not that I feel like we've lost the compassion but there definitely is some sort of block there that I think is necessary to do our jobs well. Something in that squishy gray or white matter that tells me it's okay that I just did what I did and that the guy I did compressions on last week didn't make it. It's strange. Maybe you'll think I'm a little crazy. Maybe I am. Maybe my belief in the afterlife and plan of salvation makes it easier too. It does make me so much more grateful every day that I know there's purpose to this crazy life and that there's something after here that is worth living for!