The Last Autopsy
Everything about the morgue in the basement of Walker County Medical Center screamed, “Sterile!” The grey tiled floor, the colorless plaster walls, the stainless tables and instruments, everything about the room was clean and sterile.
Even Dr. Yolanda Rogers appeared sterile in her scrubs, gloves, and mask. A green surgical cap covered straight dark hair, always perfectly in place and always tied behind her neck in a long tail. Behind the clear mask, her dark skin looked sterile with no makeup or blemishes.
She pushed the stretcher and her last autopsy patient into place and closed the heavy metal door.
“Alvin?” she asked, looking around the morgue and through the translucent glass in the double doors. Since Alvin did not answer, she picked up the nozzle and began spraying the autopsy table and floor, cleaning up the remains of her last patient.
Alvin was a good assistant. He barely had a high school diploma, and came to the hospital as a custodian. Somehow, the powers-that-be assigned him to the morgue, presumably as some type of punishment. But, he loved to work in the morgue, and Dr. Rogers appreciated his diligence and concern for the family members of the deceased.
The two made quite the pair. His six foot four inch and nearly three hundred pound frame towered over her at just over five feet and barely breaking one hundred pounds. His educational successes stopped at playing guard for the local high school football team while she became the first person in her family to graduate college, much less medical school. She loved to read poetry and watch foreign movies while he wore the label “redneck” with pride.
But, they worked well together. In the few months since he had been assigned to the morgue, Alvin had learned to anticipate what she needed and worked carefully without complaint. At times, his morbid curiosity of all things pertaining to death concerned her, but he never crossed the line.
She had just finished cleaning when a gurney slammed through the double doors, and Alvin’s voice called out, “One more, Doc.”
Dr. Rogers’ shoulders dropped, and she released an audible sigh as she turned to face her assistant and the recently deceased. She had hoped to slip out early today and catch the matinee at the local theatre.
As the only certified medical examiner at Walker – and, actually, the only certified medical examiner for the surrounding counties as well – she had grown accustomed to long hours. So, whenever the opportunity presented itself, she took advantage of lulls in “patients.”
“I thought we were finished for the day,” she said to Alvin as he pushed the gurney into position beside the large stainless autopsy table.
“I didn’t think you were listening,” Alvin replied, looking down at Dr. Rogers with a grin. “Third floor called down a few minutes ago while you were finishing up the last autopsy. Remember? I told you before I went to get the body.”
She had a vague memory of Alvin saying something before he left, but she often lost herself in the details of her work. She had always been fascinated with the human body, such an intricately connected machine. If Alvin did not keep her on track, she would probably spend hours on one patient.
“Okay. I believe you,” she replied with a grin. “So, I’ll watch the evening movie instead of the matinee. What’s the story with this one?” She motioned to the body currently covered by a sheet.
Yolanda grabbed one side and, without instruction, Alvin grabbed the other. Together they shifted the body onto the autopsy table while the assistant answered her question.
“They said it was the flu or something. But, they need you to check because of something – said it was in the chart there,” he pointed to the plastic folder at the foot of the gurney. “They also said the family wanted to ship the body to Ohio… or Utah… or somewhere, and they need us to finish up today.”
“Yes, ‘they’ always need something, don’t ‘they’?” the doctor asked as she flipped through the chart. “Interesting symptoms,” she continued after a few minutes of silent reading. “Some of this sounds like the flu; some sounds more like neurological issues.”
Alvin grabbed an autopsy instrument pack and began prepping the room, placing the instrument table just right and adjusting the large bright light above the table. He hesitated for a moment and watched the doctor change her disposable jacket and gloves and position the clear plastic mask that covered her face.
“I… um…,” he started, “I went to church yesterday.” He looked down at the floor and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
The doctor paused from her preparations for a moment and looked up at her assistant, raising one eyebrow. “Oh? And how was it?” she asked as she opened the instrument pack.
“Well… it wasn’t at all like what you described.” He glanced up at her, then back down at the floor, unsure how to continue. “To be honest, I felt like I was watching one of your foreign movies, but without subtitles. I didn’t know what was going on or what the preacher was saying most of the time.”
“Yeah, it’s difficult sometime. That’s why it’s important that we keep encouraging one another.”
She folded back the sheet as she talked, revealing the dead body of an older lady. The woman’s skin was pale and thin, almost transparent. Yolanda grabbed a scalpel, and, starting at each shoulder, made a deep V shaped incision to the top of her sternum. From the point of the V, she sliced straight down the woman’s sternum past her navel.
“Well,” the young man continued, “if you had not explained the gospel to me, I would still be clueless after attending that church ser…” He stopped abruptly. “Did you see that?” His voice carried a mix of surprise and concern.
Yolanda had turned back to her instruments. “What?” she asked startled at Alvin’s tone.
“I… um… I thought I just saw her hand move.”
The doctor moved closer to the table and looked at the woman again. “Probably just an involuntary twitch from my incision,” she said. “You’ve seen that before.”
“Not like this,” he said. “Look at her hand.” He pointed at the lady’s left hand, nearest him. While the right arm and hand were lying beside the woman’s body, the left hand now rested on her hip.
“You just didn’t position her body correctly,” the doctor replied, reaching over to place the woman’s left arm back beside her body.
“I did! And, I’m sure just saw her lift her hand.” Alvin took a step back from the table. “Are you sure she’s dead?”
“Of course she’s dead. The doctors upstairs checked, and I checked after we moved her to the table.” She placed two fingers on the side of the woman’s neck. “See… there’s nothing…” Her voice trailed off as she looked intently at the woman.
Yolanda felt a slight pressure under her fingers. Then she felt it again. It was light, and irregular, but it was there.
“Oh my God,” she started, “This woman is ali…”
Before she could finish her sentence, the woman’s eyes snapped opened, and Yolanda found herself staring down into the depths of blackness. Yes, the woman had a pulse – she was alive – but there was only death in those eyes.
Suddenly, the woman’s arms sprang up, and she grabbed Yolanda’s head between both of her hands. She groaned at the pressure as the woman squeezed her head like a vice grip holding together pieces of wood. As the woman started sitting up, she pulled the doctor down toward her. When they met, the woman sank her teeth into Yolanda’s neck and throat. The doctor tried to scream, but nothing came out of her mouth. With each heartbeat, Yolanda’s blood sprayed the woman, the instruments, the grey floor, the colorless wall, and even the overhead light.
The doctor pushed back away from the autopsy table with all her remaining strength and found herself falling backwards, the once dead woman still on top of her clamping and biting and gnashing and chewing.
Alvin stood stunned for a few moments holding his breath, then yelled, “Dr. Rogers” as he rushed to his friend’s aid. He grabbed the woman’s shoulders and pulled, but she did not budge. Her mouth was still attached to Dr. Rogers’ neck and her hands were still wrapped around her head. The assistant adjusted his position and tugged at the woman with all his weight. His feet slipped in the doctor’s blood, and he lurched backward uncontrollably. The last thing he remembered was looking up at the blood covered surgical light as the back of his head hit the autopsy table. His huge body collapsed to the floor unconscious, blood oozing out of the gash in his head.
If anyone had walked down the hall past the double doors that led into the morgue, they would have been surprised at the sounds of biting, tearing, ripping, and gurgling coming from inside the room. But, no one walked past. If anyone had stepped through the doors, they would have been horrified at the sight: blood, limbs, flesh, carnage, and a once dead old woman with her chest sliced open making a meal of a doctor and her assistant. But, no one walked in.