painting by Rembrandt
Xiau Zhen was a brilliant year two medical student for the Ivy League University of Peking. She was a physically small built 20 year old girl with fair complexion at just 5 ft 2 inches tall, rather different from the usual tall women folks from
Shantung where she hailed. Together with 5 other medical students she shared to study, touch, and dissect a dead male body, and at the end of every session, she would prepare a detailed report of her meticulous finding. She could roughly recollect that their forensic pathology professor once told them that a male corpse cost RMB300 whereas a female one cost more at RMB500 for the varsity to acquire for the purpose of research at the teaching hospital. However the professor or the university authority had never revealed the source of the corpses. Currently they were in their 2nd semester of medical studies to be involved in gynecology and obstetrics; they were given more female corpse for their dissection.
taught both the traditional and Western medicine
Beijing's Union Medical College Hospital
Xiau Zhen was cursing in her little mind that the forensic class on dissection had to be conducted in the evening hours 9pm to 12 mid-nights, though it was only once a week affair. By the time the class was dismissed it would be well past the prime time for entertainment and too late to go for movie before she called it a day to rest. There was a senior guy at the same faculty kept sending her short messages, suggesting a date for dinner and movie. So far she had ignored the texts but things changed when she saw him in person; guess she would accept the invitation sooner or later as that boy looked handsome and sincere. ‘Perhaps next week I could go on a date for snacks and movie.’ She silently said to herself, wondering which day of the week would be most appropriate. Adding further to her anxiety, Xiau Zhen was equally perplexed that the anatomy class had to be conducted at the mortuary building which was about 200 meters walk from her hostel. She had to endure the cold wind, and rain sometimes, walking and carrying with her heavy books and notes up and down, albeit covered walkways that meandered and linked the varsity blocks, with dim lights that hardly provided sufficient lighting. Xiau Zhen walked down the stairs of the morgue building leading to the walkway precariously as it was wet and cold out there with temperature falling fast; ‘it’s freezing!’ she softly yelped.
A group picture before the anatomy class for the semester commences
Medical University Dissection in the 60s
Just then she caught glimpse of a figure of a middle-aged man in farmer’s soil-soaked clothes in the dim light at the end of the stairway, smoking with his back facing her. Xiau Zhen cleared her throat to announce her arrival as she did not want her path to be blocked. She also detested the awful smell of the smoke. The man did not respond; Xiau Zhen then asked loudly, perhaps to be more assertive: What time now, please? The man turned his head slowly and at close range puffed a mouthful of cigarette smoke to her face, exposing a set of awful, dark nicotine-stained teeth, and promptly replied: It is 12 midnight already! His unexpected presence was so egregious that Xiau Zhen had to lower her head to avoid eye-contact with the seemingly destitute man. She made quick exit from the place to gain entry into her hostel block.
A covered walkway of a modern
building provides good shelter
An old covered walkway that
links two blocks of buildings
The following week when the anatomy class was resumed at the forensic laboratory just like the past few weeks, Xiau Zhen and her team mates got a male corpse for their learning of the human physiology. This week they were to study and understand the lay out of the arteries, veins and tiny capillaries of the human arm and hand, with relatively complex research into the limb tissue and muscles where the blood veins would run through. Xiau Zhen casually stole a glance at the face of the deceased and found it uncomfortably familiar. She took a step backwards as the face resembled very much that smoking peasant man she saw the week before down the walkway that led to her hostel block. Shortly after she regained her composure she continued her task together with her course-mates and soon they were chatting happily throughout the night. At the end of the dissection session, when she was on the way back after a tired and long day, she saw the man again at the end of the sheltered walkway just before she could enter her hostel block. She made up her mind that pale faced man was not her shadowy fallacy, an apparition or a heinous phantom out to harm her but a real human man. So she gathered enough courage and asked loudly: ‘What time now?’ Came the instantly ready reply: ‘It’s well past midnight.’ Xiau Zhen ran up the stairs to her hostel room within record time; she shut the door behind her for her night of rest.
A medical examiner is a forensic pathologist
who determines the cause of death as well as
the manner of the death occured.
A surgical knife-a scalpel in a container
At the following week Xiau Zhen was reluctant to attend the anatomy class; however after much persuasion and coaxing, her course-mates bundled her into the large dissection laboratory room for their studies of the day. Amidst the strong smell of the formalin, again they had to come to close touch of the same corpse they had the week before. The dead man’s mouth was open ajar to show his visually disturbing dark tainted teeth that eventually one of them covered his head with a piece of green linen. Xiau Zhen had already decided what to do next. When her course-mates had gone to the toilet en masse for a while, she did a drastically bold move, she murmured to herself: I think my supervising lecturer won’t mind, and no one knows…this is the only way to find out are they the same person…this one lying here for our dissection and the man I met at the walkway. With gripped determination and raw courage she amputated the index finger of the corpse’s right hand with a razor sharp scalpel, all three phalanges of it. She placed the bloodless, cut-off index finger in a small zipped plastic bag and lamely slid it into the pocket of her white gown as if nothing unusual had happened.
It seemed that her weekly encounter with the apparitional character of the night near the end of the walkway would repeat as she quickened her pace for her way back to her hostel room. Sure enough he was there; the smoking, tall and broad shouldered farmer was standing there at the end of the walkway, waiting for her. With branches and leaves of the trees bellowing amidst strong guts of wind, the ambience was obviously eerie, intimidating and unnerving. As Xiau Zhen got closer, the man suddenly turned his face towards her with great indignation and fury, pointing at her with his right hand minus the index finger, shouting at her with his foul mouth wide open: Give me back my index finger!
The Index Finger
Xiau Zhen regained her consciousness at the clinic for traumas in the company of all five of her course-mates one hour after they found her missing. In their frantic search for her, they saw her lying unconsciously on the walkway with her books and notes strewn all over the floor. As they were anxiously asking her what she saw and what had happened when she came to, their senior supervising lecturer Dr Lin pushed his way to get closer and to interrupt them, waving a small plastic bag containing an amputated index finger; he asked: I found this on the floor where you laid unconscious. Can you explain this? Xiau Zhen there and then fainted again.
Alan CY Kok
A telltale story I heard
For those who may be interested,
This book is essential for Nursing Students and practising Surgical Nurses: