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  • Alyse Gray

Cadaver lab and a new job


I started a new job this month in breast cancer research. This means no more autopsies. I'm a little sad about it, but feel called to pursue this new endeavor.

I never set out to do cancer research. For the most part, I wished to spend my days quietly working behind the scenes in the solitude of labs and morgues. When my mom got sick, everything changed. I strongly believe that no one should have to suffer as she has. Chemotherapy is a barbaric treatment and will be viewed as such 100 years from now. I will do everything in my power to make this happen even sooner.

I left my old job full of confidence and started the new job full of hope. I am a woman on a mission. The first day of work, I put on a tailored gray blazer, black Theory pants and patent leather pumps, rolled my hair into tight bun, looked in the mirror and said, "Cancer doesn't stand a chance,"

Although I left morgue life behind, today brought back a bit of nostalgia. The hospital I was placed in has a simulation lab that can be used for a variety of procedures, from CPR to surgery. Today a group of surgeons were practicing breast surgery. They had graciously extended an invitation to come and watch. Upon entering the simulation center, I could smell burnt flesh all the way down the hallway. Surgically cauterized fat has a distinct odor that hints of something beginning to bake in the oven mixed with the way the air smells when the furnace first turns on. For some reason I find it pleasant. It turns out that cauterized cadaver fat smells exactly like the cauterized fat of a living person.

The room was set up just like an operating room, with overhead lights, neatly arranged instruments, an unopened jar of Manzanilla stuffed olives, and blue drapes covering everything. With all of the drapes placed over the body, it was at first difficult to discern that the procedure was being done on a headless, arm-less torso. The surgeons were showing a new resident techniques on how to remove a lump from the breast, known as a lumpectomy procedure. An incision is made into the skin with a scalpel, then the breast tissue is essentially melted away by an electro-cautery tool.

It was all very interesting, and I learned a few things, but more than anything else, I wanted to know what that jar of olives was doing in the room, though I didn't dare ask the surgeons while they were operating. I hope to find out one day soon.


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