ID MyHorse

Vet School Vignettes… An Awkward Autopsy

In Part One of this series, I discussed my application and admittance to veterinary school. Part Two described my first encounter with the veterinary dermatologist, and a subsequent encounter that was quite memorable!

Early on in the first year of class, each student was provided with a “box of bones.” It was a fishing tackle box and it contained the skeleton of a dog. It was part of our anatomy curriculum. A 50ish, pony-tailed man named Leon was in charge of creating, distributing and maintaining each student’s box.

Leon told this fresh crop of students that he knew many of us had dogs at home. He admonished us repeatedly to keep our box of bones away from our dogs. I remember thinking, “No problem, my dog Lyndee won’t mess with something that is not hers…”

Fast forward to the end of my freshman year. We were studying the skull. One night I went to bed and apparently left that skull out in the living room somewhere. I awoke to dog teeth scattered all over the floor. It was not pleasant to have to ‘fess up to Leon, but he was kind about it.

The Tippecanoe County Morgue

The Tippecanoe County Morgue was located in the basement of the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine. In fact, there was also a program for medical students to do some of their first year work at that location as well. I remember seeing the cadavers they dissected, just as I was dissecting dogs, cats, sheep, horses, and cattle several floors up. None of my dissection subjects had painted fingernails…

A post-mortem examination of an animal to determine cause of death is called a “necropsy”. “Necro” means death and “opsis” is sight; therefore “necropsy” is to “view death”. In people it is an “autopsy”, because “auto” means “self” and the coroner is “viewing self.” One of Leon’s many jobs was to assist the coroner.

I could always tell when an autopsy was being performed because I often entered the school at the door where the hearse was parked. One day, my ex-husband accompanied me to the school for some task I needed to complete. I spied the hearse, and without saying a word to him, I headed for the autopsy room.

I walked into the room and he was right on my heels. The coroner was halfway through his autopsy. He had disengaged the man’s scalp at the back neckline and pulled it up over his face. As a result, the man’s hair was “inside out” over his face. (The coroner accessed the cranium to examine the brain in this manner.) My ex nearly came unglued. I guess that really wasn’t fair, was it?

I saw parts of two autopsies. One guy died after eating a large meal and then regurgitating stomach contents into his lungs. He sat down in his lounge chair and died. The other guy died by gunshot wound at the hands of his wife, who caught him messing with their daughters.


Veterinary school taught me many things, not the least of which was veterinary medicine. Stay tuned for one more post in this series.

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