A couple of weeks back, I had a weekend shift on the Gynaecology & Obstetrics ward. I had the chance to witness an autopsy, and I took it. It was quite an experience..
It was a very special experience. The autopsy was done on a baby, who died in utero, 36 weeks old. It’s hard to explain what I felt that day, and now still. I was constantly tossed between my objective medical student self, and the shocked emotional person that I am too. It’s hard for me to talk about my feelings on the medical stuff I experience. That’s why this blog is so good for me.
When I walked into the autopsy room, I was only slightly shocked by what I saw: a dead baby with a deformed skull and macerated skin. A dead baby is one thing, one looking like this is another. It’s not supposed to be this way. This little boy was complete: two hands, ten fingers. Two feet, ten toes. Two eyes, a nose, a mouth. All his internal organs were perfect. It wasn’t clear what had caused his death. It might have been something in his skull. Doesn’t matter to me now. He was already loved by two people. He already had meaning, what did his death?
The anatomy was beautiful, so pure. I learnt a lot. But not only about pure medicine, but also that tiny details are incredibly important. Together with the assistant, I stitched him up. Tried to give his head a natural form again, with a normal weight (his brains had been removed). Washed him, put his nice little clothes on. Tried to put the little skin he had, back on. It can make a difference for the family. This experience really taught me that, that small things – and not only in such a situation, but in any – can make a difference. A detail, an action, attention. I think this is one of the most important lessons for a doctor.
Now I dream. Not that often, but sometimes I see images of macerated skin. In a dark kitchen, I ‘see’ parts of skulls on the floor. I don’t want to say it haunts me, but in some manner it does..