I closed the cage door of the elevator and rode the creaky mass of iron to the fifth floor anatomy lab. It was my first day of medical school and it was hot. Barely looking up, I shuffled across creaking, uneven, floor boards into the musty inferno; the smell of formaldehyde hitting me just after the heat.
The building had not been updated in years, so it was too much to expect that it would be air-conditioned. The room was spooky. A barely palpable breeze flooded through the few open wood-framed windows high above on one side of the building. Twenty tables holding cadavers covered with sheets were neatly arranged through the room. There were green shaded lights above each table…lights that would have been better suited hanging over a card table; lights whose glass shades were hot to the touch, adding to the heat of the room.
I could feel the sweat at my upper lip, and under my arms. “I should have gone to law school,” I thought. But Human Anatomy was engrossing, and I loved it. The body was perfect; so well outlined in the anatomy book, everything in its place, easy to find.
To study for the first practical exam; the leg…identify muscle, nerve, origin, insertion, blood supply…I went to the lab the evening before. It was the only way to study human anatomy…hands on, book at the easel, turn to the cadaver…book, cadaver, book, cadaver…lift, look, spread, separate, read…find what you’re looking for, and eureka…there it was! The parts of my cadaver were in perfect sync with the book and my brain. Other classmates were doing the same.
Compelled to see everything, my interest bounced up to jolt me. I moved along, growing more confident with each turn of the page, committing everything to memory, ready for the test. Engrossed, my senses were dulled to my surroundings except for the light above, the sound of my turning pages and the oozing of formaldehyde piercing my eyes and nostrils. Voices in the background droned like street traffic. Time hummed on.
And then, there was no longer any sound. I looked up to see that the others had left. There were a few lights still lit, but I was alone. The large wall clock ticked in rhythm with my thoughts…”Got-ta gett’ out, Got-ta gett’ out, Got-ta gett’ out.”
Was the formaldehyde anesthetizing me? Did something move? I looked over the tops of the tables and noted the many shadows. Was that a noise on the stairs? Oh good, great, someone is coming; company. No, they were going. Steps trailed into the distance.
I flipped the sheet over the cadaver, slid my chair back, slammed the book shut, put it under my arm and turned, hurrying toward the dim beacon of light in front of the elevator. I pressed the button and heard the grating of iron in the far distance, five floors below. What was taking so long? When it arrived, I opened the gate, jumped and clicked it shut.
As the elevator started down, the lights in the lab disappeared.