Doctor, Examine the Body

Pathology was my last rotation. I dreaded the moments when we would be forced to cut up the dead and find out what killed them. I am of the idea that the dead be left in peace. I hope no pathologist is going to read this. The thoughts made me uneasy, disturbed even. I had to do it, I had no choice. I had chosen to be a doctor. This was part of the deal.


Little did I know that the times in pathology were going to be the most life changing moments in my life. You don’t spend time with the dead and come out the same. The dissection ritual in first year is no where close to post mortem examination in the morgue. In first year, the body looked less human, surreal even, you could dismantle it whichever way you chose, you didn’t care who he or he was in life. But in the morgue, you will have a few minutes or hours, you will have a task to find out the cause of death, you will be cutting up someone with a name and with relatives waiting to carry the remains with them after you are done. You will be the last man. You will find out what was hidden in life. The situation is worse if it is a forensic case, worst of all if the government is an interested party.


In forensic pathology, you are a doctor and a ‘lawyer’ at the same time. However, you only give expert opinion, you don’t defend anyone neither do you condemn, the lawyers are better at that. Sometimes I think of forensic pathology as something that might seduce me, it is exciting you know. But I fear folks, that I might be too good a detective, that I might be too good for the bad guys, and that I will refuse to be compromised and that they will come after me and they will kill me. You know if they kill me, I will not see my daughter graduate from college and that is a moment that I so long for. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that forensic pathology is a dirty game, it is thrilling! After all, when we were young boys, didn’t we all want to be detectives after watching those good movies that exaggerated reality? Again, I cant imagine anything better than the terrible beauty of brain surgery.


I was digressing. Back to our subject matter. 3.30pm, a gloomy Thursday, I was coming out of the post mortem room when a body was just wheeled in. A small girl, barely nine years of age. My classmates had already left and I had lagged behind to have a small talk with the pathologist, for today, we shall not mention any names lest it be used against me in a court of law. According to the mortician, the body was brought in last night by the girl’s uncle in the cover of darkness, a few minutes past midnight. Cause of death “Accident.” The mortician was busy sorting out bodies that would be carried by the owners the next day for burial so he did not take keen attention on the girl. Then he saw streaks of clotted blood on the girl’s thighs. His conscience was disturbed, his instincts could not give him peace, and so he ordered for a post mortem, msema kweli.


My interest was also drawn to that girl because it is painful to see a young soul, with a whole lifetime ahead dead. The torrid stench of formalin did not deter me from staying behind to find out what had ensued, the circumstances of death, the time of death, the manner of death, the mechanism of death, for a pathologist, you just don’t die, death has many things about it. I had not removed my boots yet and other protective gear were on. The body lay before us, a quick physical examination revealed a helpless girl, with dried tears on the face and patches of dried blood everywhere and particularly the genitals. A huge tear stared at us in the genital area. Accidents never tear up genitals like that. A swab was taken for DNA analysis. You already know where this is going.


The pathologist was disturbed, he is always detached but this one case seemed to have taken the better of him. His voice was shaking. Folks, there are some situations in this life that can break you however strong you are. Further examination of the body revealed multiple fractures in both the hands and the legs. It looked horrible how a child could sustain such multiple injuries. This was not only sexual abuse but also physical abuse.


It saddens me how the world is often times brutal to its inhabitants. I have always believed that humans are inherently good though. You wonder what would inspire a man to rape a young girl to death.


The rest of the post mortem took a quiet course. It was not like the usual times where people talked and laughed even as they did what they had to do. Thirty or so minutes later it was done. We all knew the cause of death, no one had to tell us. The rest was to be taken care of by the pathologist. Probably, he was going to involve the police. 5pm. I left the place with an experience never to forget. The human drama does not leave us in the streets and in the course of our daily interactions, it follows us to death and even to our graves. Well, you have heard of exhumation.



Author: Dr. Kiaye Oliver

I am a dreamer. I love medicine. She is generous. I am also in love with literature, she makes me see the world the way I want to and sometimes the way it is.

4 thoughts on “Doctor, Examine the Body”

  1. This rings so true……..

    People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.
    Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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