The next time I have chicken, I will make a wish by snapping the joined clavicles with someone I love. I now know where to shoot livestock to cause minimal suffering, should that be required, and I will not tell a farmer to first palpate the nuchal crest of his doomed animal before aiming his gun. I ran my hands along what used to be an elephant, what used to be a giraffe, what used to be a cat nine lives ago. I put my face against a horse's skull and tried to whisper requests - to see if it could whisper back and tell me of the great lush pastures on the other side.
I was always told that cane toads make a fantastic sound when stepped on. Now, I can tell you that this is because they have no rib cage - that you can open their bellies and make their organs spill out into your hands. You can also pull its poisonous skin right off its leg, almost like undressing it of socks.
This is Death, I thought. This is Splendor. This the smell of severed dog so heavy it sits on your tongue.
I found my boy, later, sitting on the stone steps we claimed, drowning ants with sweat. Then, Life floods back, in the form of careful embraces, warm muscles, and warmer smiles.
The Thoracic Limb:
They said: isolate the muscle, transect it and reflect it dorsally. Note the heads and condyles of the humerus. See the spiderweb arrangement of the brachial plexus after you have detached the limb. Follow the tendons into their areas of attachment, pull on the muscles and see the carpus flex and extend accordingly. Peel away the fasica, and be careful not to cut into the superficial nerves.
I said: Try to close the eyes of the dog so it can't see what we're doing. Is it a boy or a girl, how do you know? How old is it, how can you tell? I wonder if it had a name. I wonder if anyone stroked its fur and said, how beautiful, you look just like a tasmanian tiger. Go outside and breathe in deep, then come back in and take the dog by the paw: shake, attagirl. They'll treat you better now. We're sorry, but we're doing this for the greater good.
The thoracic cavity retains the cold from the freezer, but to get to that:
You slice away skin and fur, change scalpels, hack away sheets of muscle, peel away fascia - they sound like layers of rice paper. Change scalpels, scrape away the intercostal remnants. Bring out the rib breakers, and cover your mouth if you don't want to whince, because the sound of cracking bone bounces against the hollow chest and makes a reverbrating groan like you would not believe. Cut away a nice chuck of the body wall, thinking of Adam, thinking of Eve and the life that used to be in this dog. Put your hand inside-
The first thing you encounter will be the deflated lungs, smooth and slippery and red. If you pinch a lobe between your fingers, you feel, not hear, the tiny air sacs popping, and remember playing with bubble wrap as a child. Lift this out of the way and the muscular heart becomes apparent. Slice away the pericardium and the surrounding connective tissue, making sure not to puncture any of the major arteries and veins in this area. There are nerves like parallel lines drawn in white chalk from the verterbrae. Everything shimmers, sparkling crimson, dark scarlet.
You grab the dog by the fore and hindlegs (dead weight, someone said, and that's absolutely right), flip it over exposing its right side. Whatever colour the towel covering the table was, it will now be red. Change scalpels, expose the cavity on the right side. Lift away the right lobes of the lung, find the vena cava, the azygous vein, and see, you've made a perfect hole through the centre of the animal.
By the end of this prac your gloves will look like a horror movie.
My friend, we have broken a heart, and please, excuse the pun. We have destroyed it quite literally; raped the outlet valves with our fingers and spilt the ventricles right open along the external lines marked by the coronary grooves. This is not what you present to a boy to tell him you love him. You cannot shatter this. Once you have suspended the whole contraption by a single string-thin chordae tendinate muscle - one of the so-called Heart Strings, you cease to be romantic about this organ.
Foetal Membranes and Circulation:
Mr. Brendan was bitter today. Someone had asked him whether the uteruses that sat on our benches have been pre-prepared especially for him to pick up. Mr. Brendan had thrown both hands into the air, his eyes twinkling, and cried, oh yes, that is how easy it is, sure!
The uterus is a shining sack, the colour and texture of soap. Be careful not to cut too deep - because once you pierce into the allantoic cavity there is no turning back. Once you pierce into the allantoic cavity, rivers and rivers of life will come flooding out to sweep you off your feet. There is angst in this bag; there is some twisted irony in the smile of the unborn lamb and its awkwardly arranged limbs. It is so white, and wet, and looks so peaceful with the idea that it had never lived, and will never live, before it wound up here in the midst of a group of children with scapels for fingers to die.
The sheep has no placenta. Knobby placentomes on the uterine wall, each the size of a meatball, exchanges nutrients between foetus and mother. You can seperate the foetal and maternal components of it by simply pulling on one end, hearing a mental pop with each placentome you take apart. The lamb grins on when you open its chest, starting at the base of the umbilical cord, to take out its heart, the length of your thumb. Observe the foetal shunts. The Foramen Ovale, or the hole in the heart; the Ductus Arteriosus, non-functional in the adult, as thick as the pulmonary trunk in the unborn. This heart will never beat. These shunts will never close. These eyes will never open.
But that smile. That lamb's smile will live on for the rest of your life.
Listen - we were told - you were lucky. It's not every year Mr. Brendan can get his hands on enough sheep uteruses from the abatoires for this prac to go ahead.
End term one.