A Lesson in Anatomy

February 19th 2022

Prompted by the word ‘Senses’

Genre: Horror

This wasn’t the first time I had dissected a body. However,  it was the first time I had done it with an audience. Please do not worry, I will explain. My name is Mr Ephraim Squires, FRCS etc. The FRCS stands for Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and I am a Mr and not Dr due to a quirk of history.

Until the mid-19th century, surgeons did not need a university degree. They served as an apprentice to a surgeon and, afterwards, took an examination from The Royal College of Surgeons. If they passed, they were awarded a diploma, not a degree, therefore could not call themselves Doctor. In these more enlightened times of the early twentieth century, we get a degree first and then study further to become surgeons. The tradition is to go back to the honorific of Mr when you become a surgeon.

I explain to my audience of hopeful your surgeons-to-be that today we will dissect the thorax. The thorax is the area of the body that contains the heart and lungs. To get to them, we need to open the ribcage. I pick up a sternal saw and start cutting down the middle of the chest. The sound is almost like sawing through a wood plank but slightly more organic. Already a few of the students flinch, just at the noise.

Once the rib cage is out of the way, I move on to the more exciting parts. I cut through the pulmonary artery and other connecting vessels and pull out the lungs. Their surfaces are smooth and crepitant. They are white, marbled and mottled as we are dissecting an adult. There are exaggerated bluish-black pigment lines which means this cadaver previously lived in a large town. The smell of blood and meat permeates the air.

Next is the heart. I hold the lungs up so the audience can see them clearly, going through all the essential points. I am captivated by the feeling of these organs in my hand. These organs kept the unknown body we are using alive. They are incredible pieces of machinery but now feel like something you eat.

I can tell that some of these students will not make surgeons from their reactions. The very sight of me removing these body parts has made them feel sick. I find it very strange that you can walk into your local butchers and order any cut or piece of offal you like. You cook, consume, and even enjoy it, but then watch a dissection of a human body and become nauseous. What is the difference?

I then realise that I have gone through four of the five senses. The sound of the bone saw, the smell of blood, the feeling of the organs and the sight of this person being cut to pieces.

There is only one sense I have not explored, taste. I hold the heart high to show all the students and then bring it to my mouth. I take a large bite, the blood drip down my chin as I explain the taste to my class. I think that was when I lost most of my students.

Copyright: Andrew Miles February 2022