2021 Dissections

by Astrid Kühn

The first part of my year was spent in the pam lab, a small dissection hall, a temporary home to six bodies. My initial feeling upon entry to the lab was that this was a sacred space, housing those who had made a huge and noble sacrifice in their death, to teach someone like me a lesson in anatomy.

In the weeks to come, I would learn that my idea of the dissection hall was naïve and romanticised, some of the bodies are actually unclaimed- unknowing of their fate during their lifetime. It was advised by one of my lecturers that due to certain characteristics of the body assigned to my study, he was most likely one of these unclaimed people.

I began to feel that every mark I made on his body was a mark I did not actually have permission to make. It is common for students to name their bodies due to the amount of time spent with them and the strange intimacy foundered. But who was I to name someone who already had a name, to superimpose my own narrative onto a body whose soul I already felt unhappy, restless and turning? The more I dissected, the more I became cognisant of the fact that I had no clue what he had been through, what these hands had held, lost, hurt, cared for, perhaps prayed to. My familiarity with him was always marked with a respect, he was a stranger, a reluctant participant in my well-intentioned butchery. He will be cremated at the end of October 2021, his ashes scattered in a barren garden, unbeknownst to his loved ones- if he had any. I still feel a profound sadness and guilt for my part in the violation of his body, the vessel that carried him for a lifetime. However, through his circumstance I am reminded of my privilege, not only to learn anatomy in this deeply intimate way but for the support of my loved ones- a blessing I still, somehow, wished for him.

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