I imagined the nose hairs cringing.
Twenty eight silver tanks were lined up in two rows up and down the long room. So clean. So bright. So cheerful.
The odor was overwhelming. A classmate down the way asked to be excused but did not quite make it to the door before passing out.
I had been assigned to tank number one along with three other souls. Strangers, really. I knew them about as well as this cadaver.
We eyed each other suspiciously.
Someone turned the crank, the shrouded body rose up…. There was no soupy quagmire. Not at all what I expected given the fact it was called a tank…
I busied myself organizing the dissection atlas to the appropriate pages.
If I don’t make eye contact, they won’t ask me to do it.
“You go first.” A hoarse whisper.
“No. YOU go first.” A loud whisper back.
Someone elbowed me hard in the ribs.
I looked up.
Three sets of eyes stared back at me. They were looking at me to make the first cut.
What the hell?
Someone held out a bright, shiny scalpel. I took it, hesitating. It felt so heavy. Slippery. Cold.
Our cadaver was face down on the metal slab. This was nice. I was not yet ready to see his face.
We were to start with the back, peeling the skin off to reveal the musculature underneath. Eventually we would trace the nerves and muscles on their routes to the spine.
I slid the blade down the dead center of his back, directly over the spinous processes. The line was surprisingly straight considering I was shaking like a leaf inside.
Don’t let them see you nervous.
I half expected blood to come welling up but there was none.
Of course there was none… Silly!
Nervous giggling slipped out of my mouth as I tried to work the skin back. It was much harder than it looked. My tank mates tried to offer helpful suggestions.
Feeling a presence behind me, I looked over my shoulder to see one of the anatomy professors standing there.
He rolled his eyes and sighed.
“You newbies don’t know jack.”
Taking the scalpel from my hand, he cut a slit at the top corner of the skin, stuck his finger though the hole, and used it to pull back as he expertly filleted the cadaver’s upper back.
“That is how it is done.”
He handed the scalpel back to me, winking.
He was not wearing gloves! This man had just touched a dead body and he was not wearing gloves.
Suddenly, I was lightheaded.
Deep breath. Focus, damn it!
I passed the scalpel to the fellow across the tank. “Your turn.” He nodded acceptance. I was relieved.
The smell followed me home. Even a shower could not wash it off. Two showers later and it still seemed to well up from my pores.
So this is what I am going to be fighting?
I felt terribly inadequate.