by Alex A. Kecskes
We were finally introduced to the dead. Male and female cadavers lay indignantly on metal slabs, their skin, a ghastly-purple white. Mostly in their fifties and sixties, some were younger, one was a mere child. Without heartbeats or breath, without souls, their mortal coils lay imprisoned by a fate that awaits us all—a sobering memento mori to everyone in the room. The scent of embalming chemicals hung in the air, completing the sensory assault. Several students gagged as they entered. Braver souls held their nose and slowly approached their cadavers with a grimace.
The nude woman on our table was in her late twenties. A nasty stab wound to the chest had caused her demise. The indent on her third left-hand finger suggested she'd been married. Did her husband love her? Did he kill her? How many children did she have? I placed my hand on her stone-cold face. What was she like when she smiled, the sounds she produced when she laughed, cried?
A few of the dead had been robbed from their graves. A cadaver shortage had created a thriving business in corpses. So much so, that the wealthy had begun to booby trap their relatives’ graves with cemetery guns, others used mortsafe cages. Robbers were rarely prosecuted since the deed was considered to be for a worthy cause. I thought of the wives, husbands, sons, and daughters these poor souls had left behind. Many had no idea their dearly departed had been ripped out of their coffins for medical science.
I had already learned much of what was being taught at New York’s Medical College and Hospital for Women. Helping my mother as a nurse’s aid at Mount Sinai had placed me far ahead in many areas. Other students had begun to lean on me for support and advice. The vascular system, the digestive system, major organs--I had seen these in many patients, watching doctors during surgery.