The day I chose forensic medicine as a subject for my postgraduate degree was both a happy and a sad one. Firstly, I was happy thinking about what I then thought would be not a very busy career, and a less competitive one as well. Secondly, I was sad thinking about how I was going to cope with the subject matter, not about the theory of the subject but with the practical aspects of a forensic medicine career. It is said that deciding to do something takes time, but that once the decision is made, the inertia of motion takes over. This was true with me too, though the adaptation to the work my choice entailed was at a tortoise pace. I started getting used to handling dead bodies and to examining medico-legal cases of alleged sexual assault and physical assault, age estimation and the like. I started to take classes on topics relating to death, for students and the police. I could read the question ‘What is this lady doing?’ many in the audience of my classes had in their confused looks.
Eventually, I started loving this subject as it started unfolding its true colors. This was very similar to what one of my friends had once told me that any subject you chose for your postgraduate or other studies happens to be like an arranged marriage where you start loving the subject as time passes by. Each time I performed an autopsy, I felt the dead body was trying its best to communicate with me regarding the reasons it had landed onto the mortuary table, and waiting for me to help in the process of peeling off all suspicions surrounding the death one by one. Beside this, I also got trained in handling cases of alleged sexual assaults, examining both the alleged victims and perpetrators. Each case had a unique story of its own which made the immense pain and sufferings that the victim could have undergone and the pleasure and satisfaction the disgusting mind of the perpetrator was seeking almost painfully palpable to me! Oh! was this ‘less travelled’ road that I was making a career of worth it?
With this subject, I got a chance to feel that ‘everything that glitters is not gold’. And almost all hangings are suicidal. But not all. And that ‘truth is far beyond our expectation of reality’. There were cases where the voices generated by the people and media unnecessarily hyped the cases whereas there were genuine cases which in fact needed a voice and did not have any. Sometimes the tears and moans of the loved ones of the deceased were capable of making me weep and forcing me to hide my face so as not to be seen as a ‘weak’ doctor.
At first I couldn’t believe that decomposition of bodies could produce such offensive odors and such frightening features. But I now understand that that is natural, the norm! The ‘offensive’ and the ‘frightening’ are the abnormal! It was next to impossible for me to believe that a person could be inflicted with dozens of stabs or chop wounds or with a decapitation by another human being like us. But that is the truth, the reality.
Dead bodies in the mortuary are so much like the anaesthetized bodies on the operating table. The only difference is that they are permanently anesthetized. We, who have chosen forensic medicine as our career are, in the true sense, their representatives. Our reports are their voices. Voices of those who now cannot speak but who were just like us not very long ago.
During my three years of residency at the Institute of Medicine, I learnt that a small input from our side can strongly enhance the administration of justice in a court of law.
Even till my mid-teen years, a sense of fear would well up in me when going to use the bathroom at night in my very secure home. I have now become much more fearless, both physically and mentally, and the credit goes to this fascinating subject of ours, Forensic Medicine.