The Day I Saw My First Dead Body

Let me first start out by saying this, I’m not a writer. I stopped my education life rather short to feel comfortable to ever cast myself as one. But that doesn’t mean my whole education was subsided. I did the norm of a GED holding teenager. I worked part time, partied and took general classes at community college with no sight to where I should go. Boyfriends here and there, too many Budweiser shot guns and a terrible complex about myself i had to snap out of it. I needed something meaningful or some slight direction in what I should be doing in my life.

I didn’t think for once of working in the field of Organ and Tissue donation. The only time I ever THOUGHT of donation was when I went to the DMV and decided to have that little heart on my ID to help others. Which by the way, did you know that once you place that on your ID you are actually a tissue donor as well? Yeah, I didn’t know that either until I started my job as a Tissue Technician. Oh, another time was from the movie, John Q, which is so wrong on so many levels on how an organ procurement occurs, I’ll get into that on another post.

So, here I am, given an amazing opportunity to be in this field that I have no background in except some of my classes in college. My first day is the normal HR paperwork and introduction to the company. How my hours work, when you need to be signed off from these tasks, the anatomy of the human body, Lunch hours, Diseases, Blood hazards. After my first day, I was already overwhelmed with things I need to learn but little did I know at midnight my world would be changed for the best.

My work phone rings 1201am or what I had to learn now was military time so 0000 PST. My coworker, Dom, is on the other end.

“Hey there chickadee, I know you just started but how would you like to see your first case? Just you and I, Skin only, Freehand.”

“Um, yeah sure? Do I meet at the coroners office?” half asleep and more wide eyed I’ve ever been.

“Yup, see ya in an hour.”

I stumbled to brush my hair, teeth and wrack my brain of what I’m about to see.

0100. I arrive to a foul smelling building that looks like it should be in the movie, Shutter Island. Dom is already inside. He asks me to retrieve the donor from the fridge. I open the fridge with a smell that felt like a punch to my nose. For me to try and describe the smell then and there was hard. But after 5 years in the industry I have come to realize that a dead body smells of mexican corn being cooked at a festival. Sorry for those that love cooked sweet corn.

Anyways, I check the tag on a toe. Holy fuck, my first dead mans foot. Gloves on and everything, wheel him into our room. Dom went ahead and was telling me step by step on how we move in the room, ID the body, Physical assessment to see if this donor is eligible, scars and tattoos match the Medical history. Then, he takes off the sheet, unzips the body bag.

My first dead body. You go into this sort of cloudy, bright, haze vision. You know then and there you’ll never forget this donor. Next thing i remember is being scrubbed in with my donor in prone position, scalpel in my hand, surgically removing this humans skin. How I did it without puking or passing out? I have yet to know. Maybe the blasting of hiphop in the background made me feel like this was, normal. Normal? So far from it. Everything moved so fast. We were done, packaged skin that looked like it could have came off of a whale. Blood every where, my booties, my gown, my gloves.

Donor placed back in the fridge and with me in my car. I drove back home to have breakfast at my grandmothers. Normal. I was ok? Was I in shock? Why didn’t I feel sad? ill? What the fuck does this say about me? In the next years, the things i’ve seen, the stories I could tell, the culture. Life view is different from that early morning with my first dead body.

I should have known what type of crazy, amazing, fucked up, loving, eye opening field I was getting into and excelled at when Dom’s first question after the case wasn’t “Hey, How are you? Are you ok?”

No. No. It was “Oh man, after that case Icould go for a melty double-double Cheeseburger.”

I thought I was a bad ass by not being so torn up or nauseous from my first case. But, that’s a lie. Because the next day when i went to my favorite burger joint, bit into my cheeseburger, i found myself throwing up in 5 seconds over a toilet in the bathroom stall. Thanks, Dom.

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