Iowa Writes

KODI SCHEER
Excerpt from "Gross Anatomy"


In lab that day, we all donned crisp white labcoats and hovered around the stainless steel tables.  The smell of embalming fluid made me a little dizzy.  We would meet our cadavers soon.


My lab partners, Rachel and Ali, stood a few inches from the table.  Rachel kept clasping her gloved hands together, rubbing the latex nervously.  Ali reviewed our anatomy text, nodding his head a lot.


"Male, right?" he said, referring to our cadaver under the muslin sheet.


"I think so," I said. "He seems pretty flat—no breast bump."


"Should we uncover him?" Ali said.


"Sure," I said. "Rachel, are you ready for this?"


"Yes," she squeaked.


I peeled back the sheet.  The body was positioned on its stomach, its back to us.  It hardly looked human. White hairs sprouted from his fleshy back.  The skin was greenish gray and wrinkled like old leather.  Although his face was pressed against the table, I had to look at it.  Eyes closed, lips slightly pursed.  We were all relieved that he didn't have the death scream, mouth wide open, fighting for the last breath.

In lab that day, we all donned crisp white labcoats and hovered around the stainless steel tables.  The smell of embalming fluid made me a little dizzy.  We would meet our cadavers soon.


My lab partners, Rachel and Ali, stood a few inches from the table.  Rachel kept clasping her gloved hands together, rubbing the latex nervously.  Ali reviewed our anatomy text, nodding his head a lot.


"Male, right?" he said, referring to our cadaver under the muslin sheet.


"I think so," I said. "He seems pretty flat—no breast bump."


"Should we uncover him?" Ali said.


"Sure," I said. "Rachel, are you ready for this?"


"Yes," she squeaked.


I peeled back the sheet.  The body was positioned on its stomach, its back to us.  It hardly looked human. White hairs sprouted from his fleshy back.  The skin was greenish gray and wrinkled like old leather.  Although his face was pressed against the table, I had to look at it.  Eyes closed, lips slightly pursed.  We were all relieved that he didn't have the death scream, mouth wide open, fighting for the last breath.


"That's one ugly bastard," Ali said.


We already knew his cause of death, liver failure, so he wasn't emaciated like the cancer bodies.  I was pleased with his musculature.  He would be an excellent specimen.


"Thank you," Rachel whispered to him.


"What?" Ali said.


"I was thanking him for his sacrifice.  Thanking him for donating his body so we can learn.  He's like an angel."


I'd memorized the lab instructions and watched the video at least four times, so I was getting impatient.


"We have to stick this block under his chest for support," I said.  "You guys lift his head and shoulders and I'll position the block.  On three?"


Ali grabbed the shoulders while Rachel gingerly touched his head.

"One. . .two. . .three."


His upper body was heavier than we'd expected.  There was a large incision in his neck where his blood had been drained.  Rachel dabbed it with a sponge, washing his body with Biostat as we'd been instructed to do.  She smoothed the sponge along his entire body in careful strokes.


"Gabriel," she said.  "We should call him Gabriel."


"How about Gabe?" Ali said.


"Gabe," I said. "Time to draw."  I pulled out a purple marker and made a dotted line from the base of his head to the point of his buttocks.  Then I made a horizontal line under the shoulder blades.  Ali, eager to help, finished by drawing more horizontal lines, three inches wide, neat sections.  This would help when we removed the skin.


"Can I cut first?" I asked.  Ali handed me a scalpel.


I pointed the scalpel along the midline and thrust the blade into the skin.  It was stiff and leathery.  Rachel whispered, I'm sorry Gabe, I'm so sorry, over and over.  I concentrated on the line I'd drawn, pulled the scalpel along the purple dots.  I'm not sorry, Gabe.  One of our instructors walked by, murmuring good, good.


Next I plunged the blade into my horizontal dotted line.  When I finished the cut, I pulled up a corner of skin with forceps.  The subcutaneous fat was bright yellow, a vivid contrast to the gray skin.  I kept pulling, slicing away the dense fat with my scalpel.  In some places I could see the muscle underneath.  Soon I had skinned a rectangular section of his back.


"Wow," Ali said.


Rachel looked as if she were in pain, her face red and scrunched up.


Ali wanted to cut.  We finished skinning his back and began to scrape the fat from the trapezius and lattissimus dorsi.  I pulled up a beautiful triangle of the trapezius with my forceps.  Rachel wasn't impressed.


"Do you want to hold the trapezius?" I asked. "It's so well-defined."


"No, I'll just watch this time."


"I'm glad I don't eat meat," I said.


Rachel didn't laugh.  I imagined Gabe using this muscle, rowing a canoe down the river, tossing his grandchild in the air, lifting a bag of groceries.  But the thought was fleeting.  If I considered him a person, I'd never make it through anatomy.

[. . .]

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


KODI SCHEER

Kodi Scheer earned an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she received the 2008 Prize in Creative Writing for Outstanding Thesis. She also won the 2008 Dzanc Prize to complete her first collection of short stories. An Iowa native, she now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This essay first appeared in The Iowa Review, Winter 2009.

This page was first displayed
on May 24, 2010

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