My Mother Visits the Dissection Room

IMG_0164

A photo of Mum’s favourite shoes….

Dissection Painting

Image: Anatomical demonstration of an open human body, lying on a wooden table in a poor room. Woodcut illustration in Bartholomeus Anglicus, Lyon, 1485.

The poem below came out of a writing exercise where I imagined what would happen if someone who was unused to an environment that I knew very well, entered it as my guest.

I’ve found my vivid memories of Anatomy teaching and Dissection as a medical student at Nottingham Medical School combined with my more recent visits to UK Anatomy and Pathology Museums and Medical School Dissection Rooms, has infiltrated my writing in many ways.

My collaboration with artist Rachael Allen, now ongoing in our explorations of embodiment and pain with Tracey Tofield and Angela Kennedy continue to inform my writing, both poetry and prose.

This poem is also celebration of the age old struggle that is the mother-daughter relationship!

 

My Mother Visits the Dissection Room

 

She said she wanted to go there.

So I pulled some strings,

read her the rules.

“Sensible shoes?” she said.

“Yes Mother. Plus clothes

you don’t mind ruined.

Fixers, they don’t wash out.

The smell will get you,

but not of death. More chemicals

like wax and rubber.”

But my mother, being my mother

didn’t seem to mind.

Walked right up to the

plastic head,

stuck her hand inside.

“You won’t even know

I’m here,” she said.

Pulled on a dark-blue lab coat.

Watched closely

as I unzipped the body bag,

revealed cavities and cages.

Stood on tiptoes to peer inside,

scribbled in her notebook.

So I placed a stool

three feet away;

her territory and mine.

When the students filed in

they looked at her,

the older woman with colourful shoes.

Whilst I quizzed the students,

she daubed her paints.

At the end they crowded round her.

Admired her line and

brave use of colour

whilst I put the organs back.

As the students left

she called out to them.

“Call me Poppy!” she cried.

They waved from the door.

“Weren’t they interesting?

What a wonderful body,

all those nooks and crannies.”

I slung the heart in a plastic bag.

Looked at my watch

before herding her out.

Then as we went to the door

she turned round and said,

“Shall we say the same time next week?”

 

 

Copyright Eliot North (2016)

Fluffy Pink Socks

Fluffy Pink Socks

Fluffy Pink Socks

Peggy had a cough. A thick suffocating rattle that shook her bird-like frame, phlegm rising to form a glob in her mouth that she then promptly swallowed. I watched as it moved like a rubber ball back down her scrawny neck before she could catch her breath, like a snake might swallow an egg.

Her hair had been set into soft, bruised curls. A contrast to the white wires that sprouted from her chin. She wore a nightgown that was covered with small jaundiced flowers. Her vein-blue cardigan was spattered with an archipelago of gravy islands. She had a pair of fluffy pink socks on her feet.

Peggy and I talked, as much as you can do with someone who doesn’t know who they are anymore. I examined her pigeon chest and dowager’s hump with my stethoscope, listening to the suck of air across the pools of secretions trapped in her honeycomb lungs. I gave the nurse a prescription with instructions and when I left Peggy raised a hand in my direction but she had already forgotten who I was.

Days later when they opened the compartment door I recognised Peggy immediately. Not by the white hairs on her now slack chin or the milky pancakes of her once blue eyes but by the fluffy pink socks that she still had on, keeping her feet warm in the undertaker’s fridge.

 

Copyright Eliot North (2016)

Posting older anatomy writing that is just sitting on my computer gathering dust.  This short story was inspired by a combination of my own Grandmother Margaret (who went by the  name of Peggy) and a number of encounters I had as a GP, including a pair of memorable pink socks.