Many of us have this romanticized version of the ED in our heads from some TV drama. We imagine a world where beautiful physicians are sprinting next to flying gurneys, pounding chests and snarling, “Get me epi, STAT!” We imagine a war zone rife with Shakespearean tragedy, with heart-breaking moments that leave grizzled doctors weeping.
We stood in the shadows, a staggered line of nurses, students and surgeons in matching blue scrubs and masks. It was the middle of the night. Our tired bodies sagged against the walls, our bloodshot eyes dancing between the clock above and the gasping life below. A young man was dying in the operating room. He lay on the cutting table with his arms splayed wide, like a martyred saint stretched upon the cross.
Cadaver. The word itself seems devoid of life. And, so too does the white plastic bag lying unceremoniously before me. It’s the first day of anatomy, and I unzip the tarp and stare down at a wet, grey lump of clay. There it is. There is what, exactly? What was I expecting? Some warm human soul, freshly sprung from the loins of life? No. That’s not this. The essence of life is gone — absolutely, irrevocably, unquestionably, gone.