© 2020 Pulse - Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Inc. All rights reserved.
David G. Thoele
I was on the cusp of my first year in medical school, and time was running out. Classes started in two weeks. I needed a place to live–ideally someplace cheap, not too far from school.
There was an opening at Phi Chi medical fraternity, a large brick house of faded elegance located less than a block from my classes at the University of Minnesota. At $75 a month for a tiny room
I stood right beside them as they slowly slid your head into a plastic bag, looped the coarse twine about your neck and tied it tightly. Like the amateurs they were, they double-knotted it to make sure nothing came loose or dripped out. Then they casually walked away, chatting about what would come next.
Within minutes the bag fogged up, and a clear red liquid pooled at the bottom.
That was just the
Patty Bertheaud Summerhays
“They just cut the abdomen like an operation, look in and sew him up. No one will know.”
I know the inside story–the body parts,
the heart, brain, liver, lungs,
kidney, spleen, bowel, and bladder
sliced on a cutting board
like loaves of bread.
The coroner donning a butcher’s apron
splattered with blood from the last
scrape of blade over bone,
slipping off the scalp like a mask.
The eyes stopping him
Growing up, I was the one thought to be the most squeamish about medicine–the needles, the knives, the musty smell of alcohol swabs and the rusty stench of blood. Whenever my mother, an ob/gyn, talked on the phone with her patients about menstruation, cramps and bloating, I’d plug my ears and wish for death by embarrassment. Once, standing in line for a routine TB test, I had a friend pull up a chair
Part I: The first time I saw you
I met John
Part II: Cadaver as Decapod
John was surely a hermit crab, having four small limbs to anchor the body and six long
limbs to advance it. He gathered sea anemones on his back, and weeds in his spiny beard. He bore
stellate scars, the digitated marks of five pointed teeth. There was a
He presses the Sawzall to
her chest, slices skin to bone.
This unzipping of skin does
not stop our breaths–we’re used to
invasion of the body,
the way his fingers pinch
into her pockets as though
for a cloth or a quarter.
Grasping bone ends, he spreads
her pinkish ribs, not breaking
a sweat, to find what he’s come
for: such a