Michelle Cahill

My tutor in anatomy was an American research student with a slit in his heart like a mailing box. It was dark inside that wound. You couldn’t see inside but you could easily post messages. For months I sent him hand-written notes and he turned them into roses. Red, pink, mauve, hybrid-blue, black. Their scent drowned out the acrid smell of formalin. They bloomed in my basin, my bed and in the pages of my textbooks. Haunted by the heart’s diction, I grew to love polysyllables like myocardium, papillary, tricuspid. I composed my own acronyms. One day the slit in his heart was sutured neatly. My tutor’s appearance became woody like a fruit tree that stops flowering. He changed his name to a hyphenated form and we spoke a different language now. It was winter on campus and fortunately I came to be taught in Latin by an eccentric Professor of Anatomy. So it was back to the dictionary, back to cadavers and back to the bones. I learnt to tolerate the acrid smell of formalin. I learnt that pig heart is reasonably similar to human heart, making porcine tissue ideal for transplantation, and running little risk of rejection if treated with serial dilutions of glutaraldehyde. It was a source of great comfort for me, to discover that we are akin to other species, in matters of suffering.