Third Shift

Photo by Tomasz Suliga on Unsplash

Third Shift

By

Vivian L. Mg

In medical school, I studied to become a doctor. However, my true interest has always been forensic sciences. So when I began the subject of “Histopathology” it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, my teacher was dedicated and experienced in forensic sciences.

That semester my grades were excellent, “Histopathology” was my best subject. I won a prize as outstanding student of the year. I was invited to a boarding school in the forensic sciences at the general hospital. My professor was in charge.

It was my first graveyard shift at the morgue; everything was quiet and I had spent must of my time cleaning instruments and filing medical records; my professor decided to take a break and go to dinner

“I’ll be back in an hour,” he said, “everything will be fine” He smiled.

I returned his smile and he went through the heavy wooden door covered in metal. Scarcely 15 minutes had passed when I heard the ambulance sirens approaching. The EMT’s were in the yard, the emergency personnel came out to meet them. I took a deep breath and relaxed as I was not in the emergency department, however, a few minutes later a second ambulance rolled in, no sirens or lights. I imagined this must be common, but it felt eerie to me.

I watched the ambulance yard but it was too dark to see anything.

“I’m sure there are only paramedics coming from some service,” I thought.

The heavy metal door to the morgue swung wide; Two paramedics entered pushing a stretcher with a body obscured by a hospital blanket. The medic approached and said

“She didn’t make it, sign here”

I stared at him without saying anything for a moment because in the weeks I had been working there, very few bodies had been received and most had been hospital patients with long illnesses or very old people, never an accident, the Paramedic said to me.

“You know the body entry protocol, right? Are you going to sign or …?”

“I’ve never had an accident before, is the procedure different?” I asked.

“No, in death all men are thus created equal.” He smiled.

I took the pen I read off the tablet where he had written the admission data.

“female, approximately 17 years old, traumatic brain injury, left lateral facial laceration, multiple rib fractures, lacerations in breasts, abdomen and legs” I finished reading and signed.

I gave him back the tablet. “Where did you find her?” I asked.

“An accident on the highway one, the driver lost control of the car and smashed into a tree, the car split in half; she was the passenger, the impact was so strong she was ejected through the windshield, she flew a few meters and was pulverized against some rocks. There was some indication she was wearing a seatbelt. It must have been faulty or only half worn, if it had worked she would’ve slammed her head against the dash but she may have survived.”

The paramedic turned around and retrieved a bag,
“These are her belongings. The police contacted her parents, they are on their way, good luck.” They both turned around and disappeared through the door.

I pushed the stretcher next to the examination table, I was surprised how tightly the paramedics had wrapped her, she looked like a larva in a cocoon. I finally managed to uncover her… I bent over the corpse, her eyes were open. The 17-year-old body had a cold, disturbing look. She seemed to look back at me, she did not blink but I sensed micro-expressions, I looked closer to ensure I wasn’t imagining things. She was dead, even still she followed me with her eyes. My Professor had not returned, this was still a sort of internship, I wanted to leave him with a good impression. So I prepared the instruments, I placed the saw, the scalpel, tweezers, and other objects necessary for the autopsy. I felt her watching me and slowly I turned around. The girl’s face that previously was facing the ceiling was now on one side, looking at me. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. Perhaps the weight of her head had made it flop to one side or maybe rigor mortis was setting in. At any rate I closed her eyes. I shook it off and began the autopsy starting with the abdominal area, taking out her organs, photographing them, taking notes, while doing that, I perceived that her previously open fists had clenched as if she had felt the pain of the autopsy and extracting of her organs. I was frozen, I contemplated if she’d been alive when I cut into her. My skin broke out in gooseflesh, I hoped against hope that she hadn’t-

The door opened abruptly, I jumped in place and nearly touched my face with the bloody gloves. It was my professor who told me

” Let me finish and you can assist,” he was snapping on latex gloves.

“You just finished eating, will this make you sick?” I asked.

“Not remotely, when you’ve seen what I have, you tend to develop a strong constitution.” He smiled.

I smiled back and nodded. My professed continued dissecting towards the thorax and when he reached the lungs, he stopped, something was not right, a strange sensation in the room made both our skin crawl; one of my teacher’s hands held the scalpel while the other held one of her lungs. My teacher stared at it, weighing the lung and making notes. The hand with the scalpel trembled slightly. This was strange for him. I knew his hands to be as steady as a rock. I had seen him perform autopsies before, something was wrong here. When he reached the larynx, he looked at her face; her eyes were open despite previously closing them, we knew that recently deceased bodies usually have involuntary movements. I closed her eyes again and continued.

He checked the skull, cutting away the scalp, he pulled it over the girl’s nose, the skull moved smoothly while my teacher fractured it properly. It was then that we noticed that the girl was smiling with her teeth slightly exposed. My teacher then looked at me and said.

“Do you want to continue?” I said yes, I put on gloves and continued the process of removing the upper part of the skull, we removed and weighed the brain, we put it back and placed its battered scalp back too. As we did this, we realized that the girl was looking at us, although we were on the either side of the examination table, you see her face was turned toward me but her eyes were cut towards my professor. Silence came over us. I felt myself swallow. My Professor stepped out for a moment to fill out some forms for the police and others for when the body was claimed, while he was outside doing that, I stared into the girl’s face, yes still with a smirk on her face. The girl was still staring where the professor had been, then her eyes slowly cut towards me. They stopped and gave me eye contact. My eyes widened and I began to itch. My professor came back in and he realized that the body was sweating, I grabbed a wipe and I was about to clean her face when he told me.

“Do not clean her, do not remove the sweat, the girl does not want to die alone, if you clean her, you will become ill; leave her, she is looking for someone to take away, a family member will come and clean her, it is better if she takes one of them instead.”

“What does that mean?” I asked. But he only looked at me. His lack of a response speaking volumes.

We were silent, later her parents came crying, they identified the body. In the end, the girl’s father was the one who wiped the sweat off the corpse. The rest of the night went by without news and at 6 am my partner came to relieve me, while we greeted each other, I saw another body being brought in, my friend who just arrived received the body and when reading the entry sheet I was frozen.

“Male, 54 years, car accident …”

I lifted the sheet that covered his face and it was what I feared, the father of the girl who had been here hours before. She did not go alone.

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