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A Conversation with Cadaver

By Subba Rao

As a first-year medical student Maya attends anatomy lab to dissect a corpse or in medical jargon cadaver to learn more about the human body from a dead person to understand a living one.

Around 8 students share a cadaver. Each student work on different part of the body, sometimes they team up to dissect one part. Dissecting a face is perhaps the hardest. After dissecting the body for a week, Maya felt that the cadaver was trying to communicate with her. It was a strange feeling. Obviously she doesn’t want to share her thoughts on the cadaver with fellow students so she went to the lab after hours to be with the cadaver alone.

Maya removed the cover to expose the face of the cadaver. Eyes closed and tight lipped, the cadaver for a moment appeared dead.  And then, the eyes opened slowly, the cadaver glanced at Maya with a smile. For a moment, Maya froze but then she was very familiar with the body, deep into inner layers through dissections, she touched body’s hand as an acquaintance.

“Hello Maya,” a male voice sounded softly.

“Hello,” Maya replied.

“From day one when you started working on my body, I am trying to communicate with you but with my body parts dismembered, obviously dead, I can only express my feelings within myself to talk to you,” the male voice was friendly.

“When I saw your face on the very first day, I felt I know you from the past, a distant past.”

“Perhaps your forefathers may be from the same country I came from.”

“You are much younger than rest of the bodies in the lab,” said Maya looking around the lab.

“True, when I look around I felt the same, as you might have learned that I died accidentally.”

“But how?”

“In the American civil war.”

“But the civil war ended in 1865.”

“I died in the American civil war enactment; as a bystander watching a reenactment show of civil war scene in our town, I got shot accidentally by one of the actors that fired a rifle mistakenly loaded with live ammunition.”

“But not many people sign up to allow their body to use as a cadaver in the anatomy lab.”

“Well, I thought I serve a better purpose dead than alive, so I signed up to be a cadaver.”

“That is very noble.”

“Thank you.”

While other students were struggling to identify a specific muscle, nerve or a blood vessel, Maya has no problem since the cadaver was giving walkthrough instructions only Maya could hear;  for example, you are cutting too deep; be careful in that area you may damage the nerve or cut the blood vessel; slowly slice it to its left then lift it carefully; there you go, you got it now, ” etc.

“How you know so much about human anatomy?”

“Well, every time I ask health related questions, my brother-in-law, a surgeon, will start with simple lesson in anatomy first before going into physiology and then treatment options. He is a darn good teacher of anatomy; the only problem was it was too much information for me, nevertheless I learned a lot about human anatomy from him.”

“That is good.”

“May be to a medical student like you, it will be educational.”

“True, I am learning a lot from you not just from dissecting your body parts but from your knowledge of anatomy; is it not amazing, gaining knowledge from a body and soul of a cadaver.”

“Well, a dialogue is always beneficial either with a person alive or dead as in my own case.”

The term came to end with Maya scoring highest in Anatomy, thanks to the cadaver. Before leaving for the semester break, Maya visited the Cadaver to say good bye. “It was nice working on you, if not for your help I could never have obtained A in anatomy,” expressed Maya in tears.

“It was my pleasure to be dissected by an enthusiastic student like you, while some students do not show respect to a cadaver, you showed genuine interest in learning,” the cadaver’s voice was sincere.

“I understand from the lab director that in living will you requested that the ashes from cremation of body parts be buried and your tomb stone shall read ‘Kept His Life Simple,” said Maya looking at the Cadaver’s heart placed away from the body, for a moment she thought the cadaver’s heart was pulsating, perhaps it was all her imagination.

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