The perk of being a doctor is the satisfaction you get when you have been able to help a patient heal, or help save a life. The downside is seeing the ugly face of death. Seeing so much sickness, suffering and death troubles you initially, but as time goes one hardens and becomes grounded too. While most people age and then realize the importance of health over wealth. Doctors learn this inevitability of death and become mature way beyond their years early on. Seeing someone die is always difficult and people working in trauma centers, ICUs etc. always find it hard where death lurks closely each day. More difficult is the gloom of seeing and working with dead bodies each day.
During Second year of MBBS, the students are supposed to attend autopsies as a part of training. Autopsy is nothing like the cadaver dissection of 1st year. Though you are just the observers at that time, the autopsy room in itself is a difficult site to process. Autopsy rooms are usually dingy places located at the ends of the hospitals away from public eye. The rooms are cold and have a peculiar smell, which does not go away even later. The first few times you are in, you will take a bath to rub of that feeling, not be able to swallow, but slowly it becomes a part of the job. The job of being an autopsy attendant is difficult and one will usually find them as chronic alcoholics. Possibly, a way to numb their emotions! It is not easy to cut up a body to find the cause of death. Seeing cases of road accident trauma, drowning etc. with bodies mutilated and damaged, it is difficult not to be affected.
As students, we would usually go in a group and stand at one corner. We would come back to hostel numb and unable to process what we felt. We would hardly learn a thing, all we saw was the brutality of death. Once we saw a young girI whose body was brought to mortuary. It was a case of road traffic accident. Her limbs were mutilated. It was a scary site and i still find it difficult to put into words.
I had thought after this year, I would never ever have to visit a mortuary again. The fate however, was entirely different. I ended up in pathology, where medical autopsies are a part of the curriculum. In Mumbai, only medicolegal autopsies were performed by forensic department and all medical autopsies were done by pathologists. Some autopsies, would be carried out jointly by both departments. No one wanted to do a autopsy. So, the senior batch would eagerly wait for the junior batch to come and hold the baton for another year till we would pass it on to the next batch. We were 10 of us in the MD batch, and for the first few autopsies we all would go and perform the autopsy together. Watching from far was still a solemn affair. Performing it and feeling the cold organs inside a body and cutting them up to find the cause of death was troubling at first. For the 1st few months, it felt we couldn’t even let someone rest in peace. Slowly, however you start seeing it as a part of learning. We would wait for Mondays, when our HOD, Dr Jaya Deshpande would dissect our findings and teach us a new thing each time.
The difficult part was handling relative’s expectations. Even in the face of death, people would get unruly over delays. Rituals and outward appearance were more important for them. The autopsy attendants at times would be our savior in such cases. Even now in the face of pandemic, very few people have managed to comprehend the truth and fragility of life.
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