I’m led to understand that pathology literally means the study of suffering.  A pathologist is one who concerns herself/himself with the study of suffering.  Beautiful.  As if that’s not all, they spend much of their time in the post mortem room, uh, cutting up dead thingies to figure out why they died.  (I’m led to understand that post mortem is the term used in ROI and UK in place of autopsy or necropsy.)  While blood and guts may not be that atrocious–I suppose you get used to it–the smell really is atrocious.

(Jenn says I tend to go into too many technical details.  Do you want to know about putrefaction of animal [including human, in this case] tissues after death causing cadaverine?  It’s the decarboxylation product of the amino acid lysine; certain bacteria make a living out of doing this kind of stuff.  And cadaverine stinks, well, like a cadaver.  Ask me sometime over lunch.)

Among the many fascinating things that I’ve seen so far in the post mortem room are these:

1. A corn snake (somebody’s PET!!!!), Elaphe guttata itself

Listen to the clinical history.  Something like, “It was doing fine, and then the snake was found dead.”  Really?  Like, is it a normal occurrence to cuddle the thing and listen to its breathing?  Did somebody actually watch to make sure the darling eaten its apple a day, or whatever snakes eat to stay healthy?  And somebody had stood around long enough to see whether l’il snakey dear had, uh, the appropriate eliminations and evacuations and voidings–just trying to keep this blog family friendly, folks–during the past few hours?  Did it have a runny nose?  A fever?  Did somebody caress it under the jaws and feel swollen lymph nodes?

(I don’t think I should go into reptile medicine.)

It must have been primally satisfying to do a post mortem on that thing.  To keep this description short and sweet, it was like a three foot long hose cut in half, perfectly displaying how all the normal innards were just stretched out, well, pretty much like anybody’s would be if anybody would be stuck inside a hose.  The spinal cord had two funny bumps, about three inches apart; macroscopically (in my case the untrained naked eye), it looked like the spinal cord got a bit squished and bent.

Gotta hate when that happens.  Somebody must have stepped on the snake.  It may have been a step of a somewhat aggressive nature, at that.

2. A head of a sheep, Ovis aries

Now, you’re all people who eat meat, and meat comes from animals that had to be slaughtered (my brother-in-law could tell you all about this), and some people find that disturbing, particularly when they realize that somebody gets saddled with the job of killing dozens and dozens of animals in a row.  All in a day’s work, I guess.  And everybody makes mistakes.  Even the best of killers.  This skull had two neat holes in it.  The first captive bolt shot wasn’t placed correctly to do the job.  The skull had been neatly cut in half for our inspection.  Enough said.

And lesson learned!  We all quietly and respectfully oohed and aahed and cared deeply about this gross injustice done to the sheep.  Had you seen what was under the skull of that sheep you’d understand.  We’ll be calloused soon enough, to be sure.  For now, though, we all remember listening carefully as the pathologist patiently explained how to make sure that you “put down” the animal appropriately, something one wants to do well on the first try in front of the most crass of clients.