The alarm clock rang at five-fifteen in the morning. Roland, a criminalist by profession and a sort of a writer’s stunt, switches on the reading lamp and looks at his wife, who had already woken up but with closed eyes lies motionless. Lately suffering from insomnia, she usually sleeps until late.
She did not intend to get up while still dark but vaguely remembering something her husband had said about waking up early, she asks: — Why are you are leaving so early?
— Witness an autopsy. It has to be today, it is already agreed. As I am a writer from the realism school, I want to see it in person. To imagine is not enough. I need it for my next chapter.
— Do you already know whom they are going to autopsy?
— No. I intend to see two dissections. One male and one female. I am still not sure whether in my story I'm going to dismember a male or female. — Roland sometimes, playfully uses dark humour, precisely because the wife does not approve his literary style and she makes it clear. She thinks he does not have to be so conspicuous to attract readers.
— Are you sure the public enjoys these barbarities?
— In general, the male audience likes it, but it is necessary to be stylish, injecting a bit of philosophy into the butcher shop.
— Wouldn't it be an emotional imbalance for these readers?
— Everyone is more or less imbalanced, dear. Some psychiatrists for example are much more ‘’nuts’’ than the regular person. The danger lies in the fact that anyone who dares speak up can be framed in an academic abnormality. If, on the other hand, he is too reserved, there is something fishy... A “very straightforward” mate would reveal, for this reason alone, a problem to be investigated.
An hour later Roland steps into the morgue. He asks an employee the whereabouts of Dr. Moraes' office, his friend and former client. Without his permission, he could not attend the examination. The authorization had already been granted. Minutes later the doctor shows up.
— Hey there, come in, come in… Our Brazilian Zola… — cries out Dr. Moraes, good-humoured, round face, stocky body, white metal glasses. — Watching the Academy, huh? Have you bought the uniform?
— The gown would get into my way; strip me of my freedom. I, to impress academics, would have to touch up everything I write — replied Roland shaking his hand. — How’s it? I am ready for the massacre.
— What kind of autopsy do you want to watch?
— What do you mean? Are there differences?
— Of course, it depends on the purpose. Well, if there is no specification, I choose. Well ... You will watch the necropsies of two people who died without medical assistance. These are usually people without resources. For burial purposes it is necessary to check the "causa mortis", when the cause of death is unknown. Whether it was violent, a suicide, a necropsy is also required.
— Any death will do for me. The whole body, of course. I need the details.
— Necropsies are made in another sector, not far from here.
— You do not say autopsy. You say necropsy. Is "autopsy" wrong?
— I think it is more appropriate to say necropsy. “Autopsy,” from the Greek, would strictly be a self-examination. Necropsy would be the examination of a body, but this issue of appropriate names is irrelevant.
Walking briskly trying to keep up with the doctor’s pace Roland smelled formalin and other odours he could not identify. He heard some yelps.
— Looks like dogs yelping. Am I right?
— Yeah. Medical students doing experiments.
— Painful? Asked Roland, penalized.
—Sometimes. They try to anesthetize first.
They stopped in front of a glass door.
— "You mean you’ve never seen an autopsy?" Won't you feel bad, pass out?
— I don’t think so. I am a cold person. If I feel sick or noxious, I’ll step outside.
— Just a warning: once inside do not lean against anything. The corpses may have a contagious disease and you would take the pathogens with you. I strongly advise you to stick your hands into your pockets.
Roland accepted the suggestion and they both entered the large room.
Next to the entrance, on the left side, there was a table with three small bodies. Very young children. Two dark and one white. They had a huge cut from the neck down to the pubis, but the cut was already sewn. Even if they were dressed and lying in a bed, they would not look like children sleeping. Death had left its mark on the eyes, albeit closed. The small bow legs were a sign of rickets. They awaken a feeling of loss and abandonment.
To the right of the door is a row of tables with small wheels. On top of each table, a corpse. Some, with their faces covered. The closest to Roland, his face uncovered, is a dark-haired boy, twenty-five years old, bearded, with a narrow face, a thin body, thus presumed despite being covered with a sheet up to his neck. His face resembles the usual depiction of a light-skinned European Christ. Tall, his thin yellow feet protrude far beyond the sheet that covers him, made for people of average height.
The neighbouring table is occupied by the corpse of a burly man in his 40s. He has a puffy face and an angry man's expression.
— Excuse me, asks a male nurse, standing between Roland and the corpse of the hard-faced man. He pushes the wheeled table until it is parallel to the autopsy table, which is about three meters long, more or less. On the side where the corpse feet are, there is a stainless steel sink built into the table itself. In this sink, the organs are washed, cut and sliced for examination.
The corpse is transferred with some brutality - practical, routine - from the sliding table to the fixed table, without the slightest "deference" to the human being though dead, as if dealing with a large bag of potatoes. Since the man is very heavy, the two nurses had to work hard, coordinated - “Let's go together: one, two, three, now!” - to transfer it from the table, one holding the feet and the other, stronger, taking charge of the trunk. Because of the removal effort, the heavy corpse was practically rolled onto the autopsy table, almost falling on the other side.
The dead man's arms were stiff and bent, as if in a defensive position, in a boxing match. In such position, it would be impossible for the nurse to work on the chest and head. It was therefore necessary to stretch the arms of the deceased combative mature man. Roland, always imaginative, involuntarily thought: - "Our white Mike Tyson would not agree ..."
Sure enough. Indeed, it was hard to ward the deceased off, due to the cadaverous rigidity. One of the nurses, the skinniest, tried to stretch his right arm, giving it a tug. With no success, he tries harder, his right hand holding the dead man's right hand. They seemed, for Roland, to be engaged in an "arm wrestling contest". The first result was an honourable draw for the deceased, who certainly had been a very strong man.
Not wanting to embarrass the visitor, the skinny nurse, as if guessing Roland's imagination, took a quick look at the writer and used both hands to stretch the stiff arm. Roland, an addict of fiction, immediately imagined the protest of the dead man: "That’s not fair! I'm going to bite this bastard's ear!" Whether or not fair, the living human throwing all his weight, almost suspended in mid-air, won the struggle stretching the dead man’s arm while the other nurse held on the other side of the corpse, preventing it from moving away from the right position.
Thus duly with the arms stretched out, the nurse who was in charge of the head tucked a block of wood, like a wedge, under the back of the corpse, who was standing now with the chest high and the head dropped back. Then he took a large kitchen knife and sharpened the blade in a long knife sharpener. He set the sharpener aside and began to cut into the scalp, starting the operation behind one ear.
He made a very straight cut, cutting deep, with small movements of the knife back and forth, so that the blade edge reached the skull bone. He kept on working, until he reached behind the other ear. He dropped the knife and dug his nails into the cut. He gripped one of the sides tightly and started pulling the scalp towards his forehead.
The scalp was very tight; it did not come off easily. It popped up "tack, tack" in a row. When the resistance was stronger, the nurse helped cut the holding tissue with the knife, cutting the remaining links underneath. So he did, until the scalp, inside out, reached the mouth of the deceased.
Thus, the sight became unbearable. Since the hair was not short, it looked as if the deceased was bearded — which was not the case — and had part of the face covered by a mask of raw flesh obviously covering the eyes.
Until that moment, Roland had managed to hold on. He was swallowing hard. His Adam's apple rose and fell. It was necessary to employ all his resistance when the nurse picked up a bow saw and started sawing horizontally the forehead producing a lid. The partially bare and bloody forehead, sawed without the least hesitation, was a view, which only did not make Roland vomit because he always had an enormous difficulty in vomiting.
The nurse sawed the skull completely, marking a large cap. Moreover the brains, which were close to the skull, were cut.
After using the fine saw, the nurse tried to separate the cap with the unique movement of his hand. He dug his nails into the crevice of the bones, as he had done before with his scalp, but he did not succeed. Maybe because there was not room enough to insert his nails.
Everything was routine for the nurse. He picked up a chisel and hammer. He placed the chisel blade in the slit on the forehead and tapped the other end with the hammer, easily forcing the edges to separate. He put the chisel aside and, with his nails well positioned on the edge of the bone, separated the cap, which came out with a good portion of the brain.
Using both hands, the nurse carefully removed the viscous brain, which made "cloft, cloft", when detaching itself from the skull.
By then the other nurse had already opened the belly, from the breastbone to the pubis. Roland had not even seen him make the large longitudinal cut in the abdomen, so impressed he was with what was happening in the head of the corpse. When he looked away from the capless head, the chest was already open. The second nurse, equipped with special scissors, with short and curved blades, was busy cutting the protection bones of the chest in order to extract and examine the heart and other organs.
The same nurse — or was it another one? Roland was already a little groggy from the carnage — turned over the green intestines and pulled out the liver, which was placed near the sink, after which it was washed and sliced. The nurse cut and examined the colour of the slices, exchanging a few words with the doctor, who took notes.
Then he took the brain his colleague had given him and proceeded to cut it, also into slices.
While this nurse examined the slices of the organs, the other took a handful of sawdust, which was in an open bag, next to the table, and filled the void of the skull. He replaced the bone cap on his head and pulled the scalp back. The cranial bone was covered again, presentable.
— Now he has become "brainless" — joked the doctor who had lost all sensitivity to spectacles of this nature.
Roland, seeing the dead man's half-open mouth, asked:
— His tongue is very dark, don't you think? Does death darken the tongue?
— Eh? Muttered the nurse, curious. He forced the jaw down, opening the deceased's mouth wide. Not satisfied, wanting a better examination, he gripped the tongue tightly and pulled it out as far as he could.
— Ain’t nothing wrong - he concluded, examining it. - That's about it" he said, looking at the tongue, which almost resembled a cow's tongue, only less bulky. Satisfied with the inspection, he pushed the tongue back, shutting the mouth of the deceased. Then, he started sewing the scalp, using a kind of shoemaker's needle. In this job, he brusquely moved the head of the deceased, paying little attention to the indignant face of the bully who either in heaven or in purgatory — Roland wondered — would be boiling with such disrespect. At certain times according to the needs of his job he pushed the cheeks from one side to another. According to the position, the dead man's expression seemed even angrier at such insults, as if his face was being slapped.
The nurses, very experienced, were well synchronized in their tasks. While the one on the head was grotesquely sewing the scalp, the other was quickly removing blood by the ladle from the abdominal cavity and throwing the organs back — liver, intestines, pancreas, etc. The brain was also thrown into the belly. Roland could not help but imagine the amount of work that this citizen was inducing in Doomsday with the dead coming out of their tombs. To judge souls it would be necessary to examine their bellies. Like many people he knew.
The belly was also sewn quickly, with a little sawdust inside to absorb the remaining blood.
Roland, after the scene of macabre violence, found it necessary to rest a little. He asked to leave. In the corridor, he took a deep breath and then felt a deep need to smoke. He puffed and concluded that he knew little about life, in its deepest sense, despite his forty years.
— How’s it? — asked the doctor. — I thought you were going to faint. It would not be an unusual fact, for those who watch for the first time.
— How many autopsies do you do every day?
— Forty on average.
— I was surprised that the corpse did not stink. At least not as much as I had expected.
— It's just that it came out of from the freezer. But you need to see when the power goes out for a day or two. It has already happened. Fifty corpses decomposing, no Christian can stand it.
— In such cases, how do you do it?
— With bad smell and everything!
— Watching an autopsy, we realize man is nothing. A precarious piece of meat, always about to decompose. A lesson in humility, the horrendous spectacle I have just witnessed... Are you a religious man, Dr. Moraes?
— I'm Catholic... Shall we continue? — Shrugged the doctor. — At half past nine I have to attend a meeting.
The author: Francisco Cesar Pinheiro Rodrigues is a Bazilian writer, retired judge who resides in São Paulo, Brasil.
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