Mortal Lessons: Notes On The Art Of Surgery, by Richard Selzer, Yale University surgeon. An excerpt from one of his collection of essays:
“Our garbage is collected early in the morning. Sometimes the bang of the cans and the grind of the city trucks awaken us before our time. We are resentful, mutter into our pillows, then go back to sleep. On the morning of August 6th, the people of Woodside Avenue do just that. When at last they rise from their beds, dress, eat breakfast, and leave their houses for work, they have forgotten, if they had ever known, that the garbage truck had passed earlier that morning. The event has slipped into unmemory, like a dream. They close their doors and descend to the pavement.
“It is midsummer. You measure the climate, decide how you feel in relation to the heat and humidity. You walk toward the bus stop. Others, your neighbors, are waiting there. It is all so familiar.
“All at once you step on something soft. You feel it with your foot. Even through your shoe you have the sense of something unusual, something marked by a special ‘give.’ It is a foreignness upon the pavement. Instinct pulls your foot away in an awkward little movement. You look down, and you see… a tiny naked body, its arms and legs flung apart, its head thrown back, its mouth agape, its face serious. A bird, you think, fallen from its nest. But there is no nest here on Woodside, no bird so big. It is rubber, then. A model. A joke. Yes, that’s it, a joke. And you bend to see. Because you must. And it is no joke. Such a gray softness can be but one thing. It is a baby, and dead.
“You cover your mouth, your eyes. You are fixed. Horror has found its chink and crawled in, and you will never be the same as you were. Years later you will step from a sidewalk to a lawn, and you will start at its softness, and think of that upon which you have just trod. Now you look about; another man has seen it too. ‘My God,’ he whispers… There is a cry. ‘Here’s another!’ and ‘Another!’ and ‘Another.’
“Later, at the police station, the investigation is brisk, conclusive. It is the hospital director speaking. ‘Fetuses accidentally got mixed up with the hospital rubbish… were picked up at approximately 8:15 am by a sanitation truck. Somehow, the plastic lab bag, labeled hazardous material, fell off the back of the truck and broke open. No, it is not known how the fetuses got in the orange plastic bag labeled hazardous material. It is a freak accident.’
“The hospital director wants you to know that it is not an everyday occurrence. Once in a lifetime, he says. But you have seen it, and what are his words to you now? He grows affable, familiar, tells you that, by mistake, the fetuses got mixed up with the other debris. (Yes, he says other, he says debris.) He has spent the entire day, he says, trying to figure out how it happened. He wants you to know that. Somehow it matters to him. He goes on: aborted fetuses that weigh one pound or less are incinerated. Those weighing over one pound are buried at the city cemetery. He says this.
“Now you see. It is orderly. It is sensible. The world is not mad. This is still a civilized society… But just this once, you know it isn’t. You saw, and you know.”