It was Hyukjae's first dissection.
A normal being wouldn't even have the chance to touch human organs, if not to even puncture someone's skin to see the flesh within. It sounded formidable to all students as they were indulging themselves in the thoracic anatomy in groups, reviewing innervations and arterial supplies for the dissection five minutes later.
The lower ground level of the Medicine Building was so bitterly cold that Hyukjae trembled.
Hyukjae wended his way through the corridor, passing by the columns of names on the walls. The tunnel flanked by golden nameplates seemed infinitely elongated, they were all the silent teachers who had nurtured hundreds of medical students down generations. Hyukjae steadily plodded by bundles of flowers and colorful thank-you letters.
Every atom that makes our world is a graveyard and stardust, how we see this recycling of life can lean toward the macabre or the joyful. Hyukjae ran through the names with his razor-sharp gaze, And this, to me, humans are no more than lumps of meat.
Flocks of students emerged into the laboratory, immediately their laughers froze when they were greeted by ten concealed figures lying on the iron tables. Hyukjae could hear chattering teeth and sharp intakes of breaths around him under the coldness. All cadavers.
Hyukjae was the first in the silent crowd to arrive at the body he was allocated to No.7, a male donor. Approaching at such a close distance, Hyukjae was subtly struck by the dead's stillness and his vaguely humanoid forms, reminding Hyukjae of mummies or sarcophagi. His groupmates flooded in.
"Ready?" Lab coats and masks on, the assistant slowly pulled down the white drapes obscuring the body's face.
Hyukjae's heart throbbed heavily.
Hyukjae could never forget the face of his team's cadaver.
The man's expression was so tranquil and gentle. His mouth was slightly parted as if he wanted to say something, but his brow was furrowed like he forgot what he wanted to say in a rush.
What did you want to say back then? wondered Hyukjae as he was puzzled by the dead's permanent expression. Certainly, a question never to be resolved.
The assistant pointed to the wall, now full of yellowed photos, "The family has given us these. Take your time to have a look."
The professor said that the silent teacher died sharply of a brain aneurysm, leaving his family behind without any last notes.
Family. Hyukjae stared at a photo in which the man held up his baby son, the chubby baby tugging his father’s earlobes. He didn’t understand the conceptual paternalism from his famous father, but it didn’t require experience to feel some empathy.
A family forever apart.
Holding his gaze with the baby boy smiling eye to eye in his father's embrace, Hyukjae had mixed feelings, which was unprecedented. He didn't know what it is.
The professor in charge then led all students in a moment's silence.
"They were our first patients and forgave us any mistakes we made, only wanting to teach us more. They made us consider the reverence of human life and through their donation, taught us of the trust our patients will give us. Without uttering a single word."
“Remember, your success is due to the silent contributions of many teachers that you as medical students cannot afford to repay,” concluded, wearing a grieved yet determined look on her face. The room remained silent but with tumultuous hearts at this spur of a moment.
"Tools at ready, you can start now."
Hyukjae picked up a scalpel for the first time in his life. He didn't know the blade can be this icy that could numb his index finger and thumb. There were more to unknown, younger Hyukjae would not foresee how great this steely instrument had made him when it first pressed against his palm.
"Precise posture, awesome job." exclaimed the professor at Hyukjae's comportment, "Now give it a go."
Hyukjae incised the man's chest, sliced through the skin layers at the midline: it was surprisingly easy. He might as well had been wielding a pen instead of a scalpel. Aided by his teammates, the man's thorax was progressively exposed wide open, everything red frothed and congested their views.
Hyukjae saw a human heart lying in the scarlet flesh. The whitish ascending aorta cropped up from the left ventricle. Diagrams from his textbooks were no longer two-dimensional and everything he had studied came alive.
A great tremor overtook Donghae when he witnessed the stalwart figure landing his first cut on his father's chest. He knew his father can never twitch in pain again, but Donghae still felt his heart tightly pinned when he saw his father's placidness.
It must have hurt, dad.
Again, brutally convinced that his father had really gone. Donghae had begged his mother to retreat the decision, only to be informed that it was his father's consent.
Donghae watched how the senior clamped his forceps at the flaked skin, as easy as peeling off an onion. Donghae nearly fell to the floor in a disheveled heap.
Dad, don't you always want to be a teacher?
The seniors clustered around his father, examining his organs in a heated discussion, fishing out unneeded scraps of fascia. Particularly the one having an upper hand in the dissection suggested someone quickly and the rest of his teammates followed in agreement.
Dad, you are one now, you have taught so many students and they will be the future pillars of our society. Please be proud!
Hyukjae made a clean longitudinal cut on the man's ascending aorta and marked the aortic valve with pins, "This looks like aortic stenosis (occurs when the heart's aortic valve narrows. The valve doesn't open fully, which reduces or blocks blood flow from your heart into the main artery to your body (aorta) and to the rest of your body) to me." He read this in a journal but had never seen one in life.
Dad, I am so, so proud of you. So, so proud.
Donghae's throat tightened and his body wracked with sobs outside the laboratory, he didn't dare to walk any closer. Nobody could bear to see their beloved ones like a slice of meat on the table.
Slowly, Donghae's waterlogged brown orbs trekked difficultly to the side profile of the team leader. Although that senior had his face mask on, Donghae could observe those pair of shrewd eyes so penetrating and rarely found on a face so young.
...I hope you can be a good doctor. You won't let my father down, will you?
The most formidable sixth sense propelled Hyukjae to shoot his eyes across the laboratory, and terminated his travel on the boy's bloodshot, big flickering eyes, now staring straightly back at him.
...Will it be that baby boy in the photos? Their gazes crashed in the brackish midair. The boy looked dainty under his hoodie but wearing a mature expression of pain. These conflicting elements made Hyukjae couldn't tell the other's age.
Donghae felt another tear whirling at this moment, he does look like someone who won't fail you, dad.
He left before Hyukjae could take a better look at his face.
Hyukjae and Donghae sprinted up the backstairs, scrubbed up and into their surgical robes in no time. The next moment they were already outside the gliding automatic doors leading to the theatre.
Hands held up above waist level, the couple exchanged a fast glimpse before stepping into the chaos.
"CT scan!" shot Dr. Jung Nari to the associated radiologists. The theatre immediately dimmed its lights now, and Nari was greeted with an abscess the size of an orange wedge between the esophagus and aorta. Worryingly, there were bubbles in the pus. Gas-forming organisms were the deadliest in this situation, Nari had to stop the organisms from entering the patient's blood and prevent septicemia (blood poisoning, especially that caused by bacteria or their toxins).
Nari hoped that the antibiotics can clobber the infection left and that the tiny perforation could be sealed by the esophagus' muscular wall itself. Awfully simple in theory, it was pure awful in reality.
When Hyukjae and Donghae arrived at Nari's side, Nari already had her slim upper arms dug inside the patient's thorax, her face mask stained profusely with blood. Streams of blood were slotting out of the thorax and drooled down the coverings, a whole team of anesthetists squeezing in more bags of blood.
"Cleaning the infected