The voice on the the screen flickered silent as I leaned in.
“I can’t see you. I can’t hear you,” I said into my still computer, hoping — maybe at least I was coming through on the other side.
“Call me back,” I offered, not knowing if the connection in Georgia was as useless as mine in Chicago.
Today I was going to use my scalpel in front of thirty high schoolers. Each had signed up to watch the autopsy. I show everything – from Y-incision to bowel splay. It’s for education, I had explained. We had had a chance to talk about it beforehand. The older students were protective of the younger ones. It’s not for 9th graders, they said.
“Too immature. Too young,” they explained. How is it that sophomore high school students feel so strongly about students just one year younger?
But perhaps the were right. There were no 9th graders at today’s event.
“Why not?” I had asked just before losing signal, still looking to understand.
“Too wimpy,” one student offered. The freshmen had opted out on their own.
A bubbling beep focused me back on the screen and the teacher’s familiar smile met me.
“Hi! I see you now,” came the drawl from across the country. “We’re ready for you!” he said. Our connection was back on.
I saw the last few students shuffling in behind him, head and legs cut off by the limits of the webcam lens. As they sat, their faces floated down into view over their pale desks, eyes on me. Each, as instructed, sat with juice bottle and cracker snacks — our plan to ensure students don’t pass out during the experience.
“Ready?” I asked, poised for the first cut.
The video count down 5-4-3-2-1 flashed across my computer and streamed across theirs. My blade entered the patient’s left shoulder. It swiftly passed down to the chest and the yellow fat below filled the split. There was, of course, little blood because the patient was dead.
I explained everything. The bruising on the ribs was from CPR. The pockets in the colon were called diverticulosis (not infected). We were waiting for toxicology testing — I had shown them an active case. I always protected the confidentiality of the patient, but our library of family-authorized video footage was growing. We updated our video sessions frequently.
After the event, we processed. Peering from a thousand miles away into this classroom, the students at first seemed indistinct. Slowly they came to life — the student who wanted to be a nurse; the student who was “grossed out” by the colon; the student who recounted her own experience with a dead body — one she did not know. Others took steps to solve the case. “When will toxicology testing come back?” many asked. The curiosity and connection were palpable.
Next year’s session can’t come soon enough, I thought as I logged out with Georgia.
Maybe we’ll even see some freshmen.