My first day at work – Dr. Sajana Poudel

Fresh out of college, I was very excited to work as a medical officer. I was posted in a district hospital. On my first day at work, I woke up early in the morning, got ready, and was headed towards the OPD building by 9 am. I had to wait for almost an hour before the helper didi came and opened the doors. That day, I finished my OPD hours by almost 2.30, and later I was asked to continue the 24 hours duty. I happily said ‘yes, because this was what I had wanted. I wanted to be busy, attend to patients and I wanted to feel like I was making an impact. Just as I was contemplating how great my day was going, I received a call from the police dai stationed at the hospital. Much to my dismay, he said that we had a postmortem case for the day and we had to complete it by 4 pm. He asked me to come with Bhim dai to the mortuary (name changed, Bhim dai was an office helper.)

I had not expected this. I was not ready for this, not at all. I panicked instantly. When I said I was excited for what lay ahead, I hadn’t meant this. Not knowing what to do, I called a friend and explained my situation. She first laughed at me for my nervousness and later consoled me to go for it as I had no other options and I had to do it anyway. I summoned up courage and got out of the OPD. Bhim dai was waiting outside, grinning, as if he had already sensed my reluctance. Kindly, he said, “don’t worry doctor, I will be there too.”  He handed me some gloves and some masks to wear and we went down towards the mortuary. 

I walked behind Bhim dai, slowly with my head down. On my way, I tried to recall whatever I had learned in my forensic classes. I regretted not having attended many autopsies. What would I do now? I must have recited prayers a thousand times that day. Police dai saw us coming and notified all the family members that we would be resuming soon as the doctor had arrived. Everybody greeted Bhim dai ‘Namaste doctor.’ I didn’t mind at all; in fact, I was relieved that at least all the focus was on Bhim dai and nobody would notice the sweat beads on my forehead. 

Police dai handed me some papers and I completed the paperwork. Then he asked me to go inside. I looked at him pleadingly and he reassured me that he would be there too. Before entering, I gave a glance at the whole building from outside. This building could for sure be featured in a horror movie. It was isolated, old, and unkempt and gave an eerie vibe, or so I thought.

Adding to my panic, as I opened the door, a lizard welcomed me by falling on my shoulder. I screamed. I was going to pass out right there. I was on the verge of crying. Even the people waiting outside must have felt bad for me. After I entered, police dai and Bhim dai followed and the door was locked from inside. I felt nauseous. 

We resumed the postmortem. Even though I was dying inside, I put on a brave face and proceeded with an external examination of the body. Then, Bhim dai opened up the body. He was using a small surgical blade, not even a proper scalpel or knife. I felt bad for him too. Resources were minimal in the postmortem room. There were no proper gowns, boots, or other required equipments and we had to make use of whatever we had. I looked, observed, and wrote my findings. Then, came the horrifying part.  Bhim dai handed me the blade to cut pieces of the organs to send for further examination. With his help, I cut the pieces of liver, heart, stomach. But, I couldn’t find the kidney. I tried going deep but couldn’t locate it at all. In  panic, I punctured the intestines, there was fecal matter all over the field. I had blood spilled over my clothes. 

I was almost in a daze by then. I thought I can’t do this anymore. I am quitting right away and never coming back. I couldn’t hold it up any longer and I cried. Police dai and Bhim dai noticed my tears (though I would like to believe that they didn’t). 

Later, one of my seniors came to my rescue. She guided me, helped me complete the procedure, and patted me on my back for completing it. I was done. I had one long hour of one of the most horrifying experiences of my life. As I came out of the postmortem room, I ran right away towards my room. I went to the bathroom and cried for the next hour. As I came out of the bathroom, I gathered myself up and called my mum. I told her about my day. She was worried. I reassured her that it was a part of our work and everybody had to do it and I could do it too.

During my one-year stay in the district hospital, I had to attend quite a number of postmortems. My fear didn’t completely go away but it was greatly alleviated. I tried to keep my fear aside and tried to think about the person lying on the postmortem counter. Most of them were suicide cases, some were accidents. I thought about what the person might have been thinking just before his/her death, what might have lead to this incident. I thought about the family waiting outside. This helped me mitigate my fear of dead bodies and carry out my duties efficiently. Once in a while, I had to attend to some old dead bodies or sometimes a child’s body and I would get a nervous breakdown but it was not as bad as it was on the first day.

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