I have vivid memories of all the bitter-sweet encounters I faced as an undergraduate student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
During my finals in the department of Medical Laboratory Science, I was exposed to what we then called ‘Mortuary Postings’.
This was a 90-day compulsory laboratory posting for majors and minors in Histopathology.
Compared to the other postings from my third year which spanned for more than 36 weeks, mortuary postings felt like a horror movie to me.
All sorts of corpses were there: babies, children and adults; elites, averages and low class. To the mortician, a corpse was a corpse despite their class of status. The only difference was in their tag identification numbers.
Once, I observed an embalming process. The man had just fallen from a height. The mortician handled the body like a baby: fracture and bruises were all over.
I would go read about death and all its features; of all the rigor mortis and algor mortis.
I remembered imagining how I’d sleep a night before and then lying still on my bed the next morning, hear people saying:
‘I was with Chidindu all through the day. She went to bed at night after her usual crazy, critical and comic display…only for us to find her lifeless this morning.’
On one of my general histopathology postings, my bench instructor, now senior colleague in practice, Mr. Achi Franklyn, informed those present that there would be an autopsy.
We rushed down to the morgue of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu. This morgue is different from the one where we had routine postings.
In an attempt to find the cause of death, a man, say in his late forties, was opened up.
I saw classmates walk out one by one. By the time the team got to the skull, we were 5 remaining of a specialty with 46 students.
We observed the electric saw as it cut through the skull… That day I appreciated the powerful nature of the human body.
When the procedure had come to its end, we exited the morgue.
Asides the fact that a post-mortem, helps the doctor find out the cause of death, it helps him, in the case he managed the patient all through, to watch out for those who present with the same symptoms and diagnoses.
Only the living can do a post-mortem on the dead, so that the living may find better understand to thrive in their spaces of existence.
This experience taught me to evaluate my personal life in 2017. A lot of things did not work out right as I planned them. I had fallen in and out of depression, was financially unstable and failed woefully at some decisions.
Last year’s eve, neighbours were trooping in to churches. Doors and gates banging, hinges squeaking, car horns hooting impatiently, fire works cracking; I was in my room, sleeping.
What was I going to church to do, for Christ’s sake?
Make resolutions? Something that will die the next day?
What did I want to promise Him that I did not promise Him before?
[Using Mark Twain’s Language in Huckleberry Finn]
What did I say I’s gwyna do that I hadn’t said I’s gwyna do before?
So, I said.
‘Chidindu, do a post-mortem on these failures and know exactly what you should do!’
What’s with all the hype about new year resolutions?
Why wait till the end of the year to decide to eat right, exercise better, lose weight, learn a new language, expand our horizon show love to family or what?
What if one dies nights before the new year?
And new year resolutions, without a post-mortem?
Infact, I learnt few things in the course of reading about death, during this clinical experience.
First, a micro-organism called Clostridium perfringens grows in the dead body (and raw old meat). Very harmful specie! Its brothers Clostridium botulinum and Clostridium tetani, are the causes of the killer food poisoning and tetanus respectively
This means, you have got to bury the dead so that the living can thrive in a healthy space.
Second, I read of a sexual perversion called necrophilia where living people have sexual intercourse with the dead. It happens. It happens in some bad mortuaries.
And, you know, it happens with us too. I mean, why romance with the dead if all you need is to bury it and move on?
Whilst this is not a checklist for living in the new year, I want you to make sense out of this.
First, do a post-mortem. What worked? What didn’t work? What died? What didn’t die? What needs to die?
Second, a root cause diagnosis. Why made the things that worked work? Does it imply I got it right here?
Why didn’t the others work?
Third, do suggest treatment solutions. What should I bury? What should I resurrect or vivify? What should I nourish? What should I learn as a lesson so that others may learn from me?
Finally, go ahead and live the new year, 2018; knowing that the best way to win the fight us by facing your fear
Focus on your focus.