By Louisa Benatovich, Student Reporter

As I entered the morgue, the smell didn’t bother me…and that kind of bothered me.

Here I was, on a sunny Friday afternoon, in the sterile morgue of Olean General Hospital, and I was unaffected, excited even.

On the table in front of me, a body lay in anatomical position. It looked so real, unlike the cadavers I’d examined at Daemen College. It looked like the deceased was sleeping, that they’d wake up any minute now. It was disconcerting, but I told myself I had to deal with it.

I gowned up: foot coverings, gloves, gown and visor.

“Just in case you want to lean in close,” they said. I was told the story and shown the victim’s belongings. It was like a mystery; we were searching for the cause of death. 

I touched the body, moving the elbow joint slightly, feeling its stiffness. The skin felt pliable and human under my gloved fingers, but so cold…too cold.

“I don’t know how I’ll react to this,” I informed the physician as he prepared to make the first cut. I steeled myself. 

Before I disgust with the gory details, I must explain that I chose this.

One of the three Ellicottville students who attends the New Visions program at Olean BOCES, I have had the opportunity to shadow many of the wonderful physicians at Olean General Hospital.

After a day in the laboratory, the pathologist asked me if I wanted to see an autopsy, and I excitedly agreed. I desired to test myself, you see. I wanted to know if I could actually stomach my dream.

Back at the morgue, I watched the scalpel move over mottled skin. I was transfixed. The body’s texture, color and intricacy I found beautiful.

The physician explained as he worked, answering my questions, making sure I saw all structures as he made his way up the abdomen. I was amazed. I had never truly understood the complexity of the human body. 

I could describe the smells and the sights, the things that glistened, popped and swelled, but that would be too much. I can describe the feelings, how amazing it is that our mind can separate work and belief, coincide science and religion.

That day, I didn’t see death as a shackle. We weren’t maiming or mutilating, we were giving life to a story whose last pages had been burned. We were bringing justice to the deceased. 

Death is a concept we can all understand despite class, creed or belief system. That day, I met with death, and we worked side-by-side. It was not bad or morbid, it was scientific.

There was nothing I could do or feel to change what was in that morgue. All I could do was learn and look to the future.