Friday, October 25, 2013

You Can't Quit Now!

You’ve traveled this corridor scores of times, scurrying like a lab rat through the underground maze of tunnels on your way to lectures or to lunch. Nothing about it has changed. Even the smell is the same - a faint odor of putrescine and cadaverine overlaid with the sinus-searing scent of formaldehyde. You’ve passed this door scores of times. This door on which the letters M,O,R,G,U, and E are stenciled in stark black upper case letters. The door that always conjured up images for you of mayhem, mystery and murder. You’ve never opened this door. But today - today you must enter the Inner Sanctum.

You chose forensics. You’ve been fascinated with detective stories and suspense thrillers ever since you read your first Nancy Drew book. Forensics is detective work without the danger. Without the blood. Yes, you made the choice freely. And now you must enter the door labeled MORGUE. You must.

You take a single, deep breath and enter the room. You’re not alone. You are accompanied by a dozen classmates, fellow travelers in the world of forensic sciences. Your eyes are drawn to a stainless steel table in the center of the room. The table holds a body - at least, you assume it to be a body - a clean, white sheet draped discretely over it. 

The clock in the MORGUE ticks loudly. Your tension builds. The pathologist, gloved and gowned, enters as the clock strikes 10:00. He carefully folds the sheet down, exposing the body in stages from head to toes. It is/was a woman. A ‘Jane Doe’, he says. An unidentified female, found on Mount Royal. His task, he explains, is to record identifying characteristics and to determine the cause of death. He starts with a careful search for moles, tattoos, scars, wounds and lacerations, cataloguing his findings by speaking into a microphone suspended above the table. He lifts her arms, one by one, displaying her hands, enveloped in clear plastic bags that are secured to her wrists with plastic ties. To protect the evidence, he explains. To preserve the fingerprints. He removes the bags and takes scrapings from under each nail, placing the detritus of her death into small sample bags for the forensics team. He continues with his external exam, his probing thorough. There is no room for modesty here, no room for shame. Jane Doe is a cadaver, a corpse. An unidentified fallen object to be studied, examined, parsed and dissected. 

The pathologist dons his surgical mask and selects a marker pen. He uses the pen to explain how he will unlock the mysteries of this cadaver. He draws lines tracing his future scalpel strokes. You feel a twinge of nausea. You must hold on. It’s only a cadaver, you tell yourself - like the dead rats you dissected in your biology lab sessions, but larger. Now the pathologist has set aside his marker pen and is readying a scalpel. You can see the sharp blade reflecting the overhead fluorescent lights on its polished surface. You must hold on, you tell yourself. You watch the blade as it approaches the cadaver. A mist seems to rise before your eyes - thin at first, then becoming dense. You hear a roar in your ears, like a distant waterfall, getting louder and louder. You must hold on. You feel hot, then cold, then hot again. You close your eyes.

You hear voices in the distance. Excited voices. Worried voices. You feel something cool and wet on your forehead. You open your eyes. You are lying on a table - a twin to the one that holds the cadaver. Your classmates are clustered around you, the dissection forgotten. The pathologist is at your side. “Lie still,” you hear him say. “You’ll be fine in a few minutes. You fainted.

You lie there, analyzing the reactions of your classmates. You see sympathy in their faces. Concern, too. And, when they think that you're not looking, you see something else. “Serves you right,” their eyes are telling you. “You thought you were the class hotshot. Serves you right.” 

You sit up, still a bit woozy, brushing off their offers of assistance. There is an autopsy to observe. Your reputation is at stake. You can’t quit now.

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