Recollections by Richard Bleil
Editorial Note: This blog contains graphic descriptions of an autopsy.
Waiting for the bus, two men were talking about horror flicks today. I enjoy horror flicks; they’re usually quite absurd, and frankly, they never scare me. I just enjoy laughing at them. Through the conversation, they became more and more graphic, as one of the men started talking about “real” movies. He seemed like he was just posturing, but it got me to thinking about some of the things I had seen, things I wish I could forget.
I remember my first autopsy. I may have written about it some time ago, but having done about three hundred blogs to date, sometimes topics show up more than once. But the memories will never leave me.
They opened the stainless-steel door and rolled her onto the table. Condensation from the cold air condensed into a fog, falling towards the floor like a bad movie. She didn’t even look real. Her skin was gray and rigid, rigid as the body was moved, unnaturally stiff. She had fallen under the wheels of a fully laden tractor-trailer. She was wearing jeans, but as the rear tire of the trailer rolled over her, her intestines had been pushed down, burst through the jeans and were laying between her legs, rigid and stiff from the freezing.
They took initial observations and measurements as the forensic photographer cataloged the events through imagery. Rulers were placed near every major bruise, and the intestines, as photos were snapped.
She was drunk, blonde, in her thirties. She had the body structure, hair style and a look very similar to my ex-wife. I couldn’t help but feel that, but for the grace of God, could have been her laying on that slab. She had hurt me, a pain I still feel today, but while I kid about her frequently, I never wished her any harm. More than the stark reality of the situation, this similarity bothered me to my core.
They flipped her over, and the photography and observations began anew. The track from the tire crossed her flattened body diagonally across her back like some twisted cartoon, but it was just too real. I’ll never be able to watch these cartoons with such innocence again.
They cut down her clothes and flipped her back onto her back. Her clothes were removed. I could see that she would have been an attractive woman, but there was nothing sexual about her body now. Her skin discolored, cold and stiff had lost all appeal. The main surgeon cut an “I” pattern down her body, as his assistant began slicing her scalp just at the edge of the hairline. He cut down the hairline along the sides of the face, just in front of the ears, to her neck. The surgeon opened along the incision, as his assistant peeled her face off of the skull and popped her scalp off with a suction sound. The surgeon cut open her sternum to open the rib cage, as his assistant used an electric circular saw to remove the top of her skull.
With access to her organs, they removed them, one by one, starting with the brain. Each organ was carefully weighed, and several thin slices were taken and placed in marked jars with preservative for later pathological studies. The surgeon had great skill, slicing the frozen tissue more thinly than I had ever seen done with deli meat by the grocer. In the end, we are nothing but meat, no different from any other animal. The reality hit hard.
The brain, kidneys, heart, liver and other key organs removed one at a time and processed. The liver had undergone trauma. The very bottom of it was pulverized, which ultimately was the cause of her demise.
Photos completed, organs processed, the brain was re-inserted into the brain, and the top of the skull replaced. The skin was stretched back over the skull, the tension of which held the pieces together. Close examination would reveal where the skin had been cut, but otherwise you would not be able to recognize that the autopsy had been done. The organs were placed into a plastic bag and stuffed back into the abdomen. The rib spreader removed, rib cage closed and skin closed and sewn back together, and the task was done. The body was returned to the freezer. The entire process took a few hours.
Everybody involved worked with minimal discussion. It was performed in a matter-of-fact fashion. Cross talk was minimal, and only included what was needed for the process. Somehow, I thought it would be more somber than it was. It was respectful, but also very rote and unfeeling. I have to admit, the people who do this kind of work have my deepest respect. It has to be done for justice to be served, but, frankly…I’m glad I’m out of it.