Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dyeing and autopsies

Friday was my last day in the Histology department at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Now that rotation is over and I miss it a little, even though Histology was my least favorite aspect of medical laboratory technology. I always felt as though I was memorizing facts about it (a lot of facts) without ever really enjoying the material or the lab work the way I enjoy microbiology.

Worse, after each semester I would promptly forget everything I had studied, meaning the entire process had to be repeated for the next set of exams. Which was kind of depressing.

But the rotation helped a lot. Histology still isn't the most fun I've ever had in a laboratory (that would be the time I had to check on a bacterial culture at a quarter to midnight, so the guy I was dating came with me, and to this day I don't remember if the bacteria were all right). But anyway. When you spend all day working in one field, it's much easier to become proficient in it, and the rotation drew everything together so that all the facts I'd memorized made a lot more sense.

And then I got to see an autopsy.

I've read a lot of Patricia Cornwell's novels - Post-Mortem, Body of Evidence, etc - but seeing the autopsy for myself was... different, to say the least. No description can recreate the sharp smell of formalin, the sweat on your forehead, the sound of connective tissue tearing away, the squishy slippery feel of internal organs. I wasn't sure I would bear up beforehand, but it was all right as long as I didn't look at the face, hands or feet.

Staring at the torso made it easier to think of the anatomy diagrams in my textbook instead. I won't ever want to perform autopsies, but this one was an unforgettable experience.

Finally, on Friday I got a new lab coat because the old one was covered with colorful spots and blotches from all the tissue-staining we'd done during the week. And on Monday I start in Hematology.


gypsyscarlett said...

Having read about autopsies beforehand, was there something that really surprised you about the experience?

Something they don't tend to mention so much in books, for example?

Marian Perera said...

Might be best not to read the following if you're eating...

Well, the books never mentioned that the pathologist's assistant might reach into the open body cavity and squeeze the bulging sac of the bladder so that urine actually squirted through the penis (into a plastic container so we could measure it).

That made me stare. I just never imagined a person urinating after death.

Shelley Munro said...

I can't even watch surgeries/autopsies etc on TV shows. I have to look away. The idea of extra smells and noises...nope, not for me!

Maria Zannini said...

Autopsies have always fascinated me. I like to see how things work.

I'm not crazy about the overly ripe smells, but dems da breaks.

Marian Perera said...

Shelley - I think the autopsy might have been more difficult to look at if it had been conducted on a woman, perhaps because I'm one. One or two of the techs also mentioned that after having children of their own, they couldn't watch autopsies done on babies or children.

Maria - I couldn't actually smell the body at all, because the smell of formalin was much stronger. Though of course, if the body had been advanced in putrefaction that might not have been the case.