The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Junior Interns at Local Hospital’s Morgue

Junior Sarah Jacobs (below) does more than the average student volunteering at a neighborhood hospital; she has the special opportunity to conduct autopsies at a local morgue, located on the hospital’s fourth floor. Sarah received this unique internship the summer after her freshman year, and has worked 40 hours a week during the summer and 4 hours a week during the school year ever since.

After taking Biology Honors her freshman year, Sarah was interested in pursuing a career in science. In particular, she hoped to gain work experience through an internship at a hospital. However, Sarah knew she wanted to do much more than the average high school volunteer.

“A lot of the [volunteer] jobs are like giving out cookies, or taking them from place to place,” Sarah said. “They are all important jobs but I really wanted to do something more interactive. And obviously because of liability you can’t have any live patient interaction.”

Sarah’s job is similar to a pathology technician, which means she has the responsibility of helping with autopsy procedures while supervised. Although some of her work includes filling out paperwork and sterilizing instruments and surfaces, Sarah also has the opportunity to work on the open body.

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“We don’t actually do the dissection of the individual organs, but we remove them [to] find out what caused them to die,” Sarah said. “When we do an autopsy, it will not be due to criminal involvement— those cases go to a coroner. We will get a lot of cases when we are not sure what went wrong… These people now have passed, so if the doctors can glean anything to help people who are alive right now, I think that’s awesome.”

The process of removing organs requires the use of a variety of different instruments. In order to extract these organs, Sarah and her partners open up the body by cutting up the first barrier: the skin.

“We remove all the internal organs from the chest cavity, the brain as well,” Sarah said. “To get out your heart and lungs, we have to take out the rib cage. So we use a bone saw. First you remove all the tissue from the rib bones and then use the bone saw to cut the bones out.”

As an intern in a necropsy program, a program which focuses on the analyzation of the dead body, Sarah was at first uneasy about her work. The whole process was very much foreign to her, and terrified her during her first operation.

“The first time I did an autopsy, I still thought of the body as a human being which frightened me,” Sarah said. “It was the process of understanding that the other person is dead. Autopsies are meant to give a sense of closure and so for me I was like, ‘They have passed and now we are letting them give a gift to the scientific community to help people that are alive.’”

Initially, Sarah hadn’t ever seen a dead body; her grandfather who passed away a year ago had a closed-casket ceremony. Since she lacked this exposure, it was an obstacle for her to become accustomed to working with and operating on the corpses.

“Death kind of freaks you out a little bit, just as a concept,” Sarah said. “When you work with dead bodies for 40 hours a week, you kind of learn … that there’s a difference between a body and a person. And so that realization didn’t really come to me [until I started interning]. But whatever you believe happens when you die, I can tell you the person is no longer there.”

Over the past two years Sarah has adjusted to the initial shock of conducting an autopsy. This came with experience and the long hours devoted in the morgue overseeing these dead bodies. As a result of sacrificing much of her time in the hospital, she has had several memorable experiences, including accidents in the laboratory.

Along with making many close friends with her co-workers, she has also learned much about the career she dreams of pursuing in the future.
“I don’t believe I want to be a pathologist,” Sarah said. “After working in a hospital for almost 700 hours, I want to work in a hospital. I love the feeling [and] the atmosphere… I really enjoy the procedures, so I think that I want to be a surgeon. The biggest thing I have taken away from this experience is probably coping with death and learning so much. I now know so much about gross anatomy.”

However, Sarah doesn’t want to be known just as the girl affliated with death, but instead the student with a strong passion for science.

“I’ve told people about my job before,” Sarah said. “And some people respond by saying, ‘Oh my gosh, you must love dead people.’ But that’s not the case. I respect the dead and I find my job fascinating. I have a scientific love for pathology, not a morbid one.”

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