The beginning was difficult. We entered an auditorium shaped like a vertical matchbox. The floor was the smallest rectangular side of it with seats in an amphitheatric square bracket. You could neither ignore nor stay too far away from the cadaver that was lying, dumped rather unceremoniously, on the metallic table in the middle of the room; a man. The sight was not at all pleasant and the awkwardness of all of us was as obvious as it was expected. The smell of decomposition is not helping. Whispers and nervous chuckles sound among us as we scatter around the seats, trying to sit near classmates we are most comfortable with. Some get pale, some joke around, some try to show academic interest, some cold professionalism.
I gaze up at the blinding light coming from the windows on the upper part of the tall chamber and try to put my thoughts in order. This man has lost his life. How petty is it, being preoccupied with my own feelings, my own insecurities? How I feel is completely irrelevant. This hour belongs to this man, to his life. What’s more, whatever this man had been through is over. He’s not in pain anymore, he’s not suffering. He’s not doing anything else either, of course. The following hour would be difficult for us, not him. So, I simply had to deal with it. Funnily enough, it wasn’t as hard as I’d have thought.
The scalpel cuts the flesh. Always following the same predetermined path; like a prophecy about to be fulfilled, it draws its course and exposes one by one the inner layers of the material side of this person. Without fear, without passion, without any emotion, neutrally, like the official messenger of some higher, unmitigated truth, the coroner dictates the findings to his female assistant.
The assistant has certainly been animated from the pages of some dark novel: Thin face, white marble skin in full contrast to dark eyes and beautiful, long, wavy, black hair. An enigmatic beauty, she fits the picture so perfectly that the irony doesn’t manage to bother me.
There’s no other sound besides the meeting of the metallic instruments with the flesh, the steady voice of the coroner, the occasional rustle from the turning of a page on the assistant’s notes. Fifty people we might as well had been as lifeless as the man on the table… if one didn’t count the energy that can be only be produced by the weight of a collectively held breath. Fifty people and nobody makes the tiniest sound. The minutes pass, turn into an hour and keep passing and not even the slightest creak of a chair from somebody’s attempt to get comfortable, not even the slightest swish of some fabric from the smallest of movements has sounded. Nobody talks. Nobody moves. Nobody takes notes. Nobody breathes.
Like statues, like birds locked in the eyes of the snake, we watch wide-eyed, mesmerized, as the procedure progresses. Systematically, responsibly, everything’s cut, weighed, studied, and prepared for microscopy.
And there are no more secrets.
Violent, barbaric, primitive, but with such control and coldness and seriousness, that it is impossible not to feel at awe. Whatever you’ve seen, whatever you’ve done, this is something different, higher; it takes by itself a ritualistic character.
If there is a god, there’s no way they don’t think we are exceeding our jurisdiction. If there is a god then every time a human is autopsied I’m certain they turn their back at as in disapproval for the mundanity with which we treat the matter of one of their creations.
But this mundanity, this seaming desecration, does not originate from lack of respect or from an insolent attitude, so it doesn’t come in opposition to the celebration of the grandeur of life. Besides, this is the grandeur of life; that it is the exception, a wonderful, occasional, vulnerable concentration of organization that all the forces around it try to degenerate, to dissipate – and, sooner or later, they succeed in it. Life is a relentless war, an ongoing attempt at maintaining a hole in the water during a storm.
And medicine is an important weapon in this war. That’s why they cause so much awe, the emergency room, the operating rooms, the defibrillation, the artificial respiration, all the extreme procedures that can delay the inevitable; the adrenaline, the responsibility. But the autopsy comes after the battle; after the defeat. It honors life in its absence. So unhurried, so cold. So crude, and yet so elegant, leading to the enunciation of the cause of the irreversible outcome… leading to the last truth.
Because, while the crime has already been committed, the culprit can still be found; and this is where they will be found… on the table of the final truth.