Call me Fronkenstein

I keep as skull next to my computer. Not a real one. They cost a fortune. But a plastic medical replica. A legacy from medieval days, when cadavers and skulls were often used as a motif in artwork, to remind viewers of their own mortality. I had planned on turning it in to a stereoscopic pinhole camera, but my limited knowledge of cranial capacity was well off, and even fitting 110 film in would be difficult, let alone 35mm or even medium format. Glasses would have made an excellent filter holder, which it still sports, minus the 81a warming filters.

Last year I managed to wangle a trip round a morgue. It was interesting but we weren’t allowed to see any dead bodies. The autopsy room was clinical with three bays for dissection. It had a clinical, antiseptic smell mixed with the smell of the dead. However it wasn’t this room that threw me the most.

The viewing room where you could come to pay your last respects was decorated with dated 1980s wallpaper. Pinks and greys. There were no windows. No prying eyes to look at the dead. But it made the room feel more like a tomb. A badly decorated tomb, but a tomb nonetheless. On the wall hung a cross, a crescent pointing towards Mecca and in the cupboard was a copy of the Bible, Koran and Torah. None looked well used, thumbed by loved ones looking for the right passage, the right thing to say.

At the far end was a viewing panel. The room beyond was to be used for corpses infected with contagious diseases. The curtain was closed, but on opening it revealed a room full of cardboard boxes, paper cups, Christmas decorations. I’m guessing people just don’t die of the plague any longer.

It was an interesting experience.

This year I’ve an autopsy lined up. I’ve been told it can be pretty hands on. The organs removed and passed around so one can get the feel of the weight and size. Then uncermounously dumped back in the now empty body cavity. Jiggled about so they fit and then sown up. I’m unsure about how I feel in participating but it’s something I want to do. I feel I’ll learn more about myself by confronting this scene.

Many years ago I had a friend who was a psychatrist. A friend, not a doctor. She explained to me how they still used electrotherapy treatment to calm patients down. It would keep them sedated for a few days before a new episode set it. It wasn’t a cure. They knew that. I felt that it was wrong. But I never met her patients so didn’t know their conditions, how much harm they could do to themselves if they weren’t sedated.
When you are younger you feel as though you are indestructible and can do anything. As you get older and people around you a similar age start dying you are reminded about your own mortality.

As a student you tend to do reckless things. Things you’d think twice about doing now and dismiss for fear of the repercussions. I remember one night. I was at a party. I say I remember, as a friend does not. The drink was flowing and everyone was having a good time. One of my friends had a bad knee and had been given a Tens machine to help relieve the pain. We had been taking it in turns to hold on to the electrodes and see how much juice we could take.

It was getting late and everyone was getting tired. One of my friends decided to crash out in the lounge while we finished up the last of the booze. He was the practical joker of the group and as we stood around supping the last of the vodka a plan was hatched.

We snuck in to the lounge, taped the electrodes of the Tens machine to his forehead, and set it to ten. We would have gone full Spinal Tap and gone up to eleven, but that would have meant either wiring the machine in to the mains (none of us were qualified electricians or sober enough to attempt it) or stencil 11 on to the dial.

We pressed the button.

He sat bolt upright. Alarm on his face, ripping the electrodes from his temples. We in turn fell about giggling. It was hilarious. Curses and insults issued from his mouth. Then he fell back in the chair and went to sleep.
The next day he claimed not to remember anything about the night before.

On reflection it was a stupid thing to do. But if the roles had been reversed he’d been the first to hatch the plan. Divine justice? Or just a continuation of the experiment Mary Shelly started one hundred and fifty years ago?


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