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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

80

#80. I have, however, seen several severed limbs and internal organs.

I used to work in the pathology department at a large teaching hospital. Now, in case you’re not familiar with what a pathology department might do, I’ll explain:

The ‘path docs’ get whatever tissue or sample that comes out of a person during a biopsy or surgery, and they study it. It’s their job to know what ‘normal’ looks like, versus ‘horribly, horribly wrong’, for whatever type of human meat or juice they’re looking at. They’re like the Mr. Blackwells of the disease world.

Most of the stuff that comes through the pathology lab is pretty small, of course. The surgeons might take off a wart, or dig out a cyst or a small tumor, or take out an appendix. All of these things first go into the ‘gross room’ — and no, I’m not making this up. As appropriate as the name sounds to those of us not used to looking at people’s insides, the ‘gross’ in ‘gross room’ refers to the relative size of the specimen, not the gag-me-with-a-stethoscope factor. Most samples that come in are ‘gross’, and then they’re processed and sliced and made into microscope slides, or ‘microscopic samples’. (Or sandwiches, depending on what the cafeteria’s serving that day.)

Anywho, as I said, most of the gross room material is pretty small. It sits there in Petri dishes until someone takes a picture of it for the records, and then it gets processed. But sometimes, a more radical procedure’s been performed on the patient, and you end up with a kidney. Or a liver. Or a leg, from the thigh down. This is when ‘gross room’ lives up to its name.

So, I was an intranet programmer at the hospital I was at. But the office I worked in was down the hall from the gross room. And, of course, as I was walking by each day, I just had to look in, despite my already queasy stomach that I’d just shoved cafeteria slop into. Most days, I wouldn’t see much of anything at all. Either the samples were too small to spy from the doorway, or it was a slow day. Other days… well, there’s some nasty business that goes on in the operating rooms, folks. I’ve seen dismembered hands — with and without arms, feet, single toes, livers, kidneys, all manner of other unidentifiable (at least by me) organs, and several things that looked a lot like ground beef. I didn’t ask. There was also a lung or two, or at least large chunks of something that used to be a lung. Believe me, if I smoked at that point, I’d have never smoked again. (On the other hand, healthy lung sitting on the table in a metal tray isn’t really that much prettier, so maybe I was overreacting a bit.)

I even got to know a couple of the guys that worked in the gross room, so I could weasel my way in for a good look, or a detailed explanation, if the sample was really weird. I’d get to hear about how the arm got mangled in some machinery, or how a liver should be that color, but never this color, so that’s why the guy needed a transplant. So I learned a little along with the gore, and even got used to seeing most things that showed up there. Still, I always did a double-take when I peeked in and saw a hand or an arm lying on the table. I dunno — maybe it’s a horror movie thing, or maybe I watched the Addams Family too much when I was a kid. But I always wondered whether, if I just stood there long enough, the thing would start twitching and moving around. Luckily, though, it never did. Which was good — I was just barely able to keep the cafeteria food down as it was.

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