Which consequences is the suspension of education having for you so far?
“People are leaving their bodies to science, but we aren’t able to use them for the time being. When donors pass away, we receive their body. I have two preparators standing by who wash and prepare the bodies together with one or two students. But education has been suspended across the board. Normally these bodies would be used for the practical training of medical students, or during advanced surgery trainings that focus on new operating techniques, for example. These courses are usually organised daily, but they’ve been cancelled for the time being too. This means we have to store any bodies that come in. If the situation doesn’t improve, I expect this could soon lead to capacity issues.”
What happens to the bodies if storage capacity runs out?
“We always reserve the right to refuse a donated body, but up till now this was never really an issue. In the current uncertainty, we may decide to cremate incoming bodies without using them for science. We are doing our utmost to find solutions to avoid taking this step. For example, we’re currently constructing an extra freezer that will double our existing capacity. We had already planned this addition, so the timing has proven quite fortunate.”
Will you be notifying the next of kin if you aren’t able to use the deceased’s body?
“I actually haven’t given this any thought yet, since the situation never presented itself before. Generally speaking, we don’t do that kind of thing. After all, we also cremate the remains without informing the surviving relatives after we’ve used them for education. Maybe in this new situation – which is new to us too – we could offer people the choice of holding a funeral after all, in lieu of donation.”
Are the preparators still working despite the epidemic?
“One preparator is absent due to illness but is recovering as we speak. A second preparator is ‘holding the fort’. Cadavers need to be prepared as soon as they come in – preferably within 24 hours. New bodies arrive throughout the day. I do have mixed feelings about this, because I feel a responsibility to support the remaining preparator. But this is impossible at the moment due to our situation at home.”
Are you able to organise any other forms of anatomy instruction?
“Digital solutions aren’t really an effective substitute for practical training. At the end of the day, you lack the three-dimensional experience and insight offered by live demonstrations in the dissecting room. The quality is notably affected when you’re learning from a video or book. Nevertheless, we’re currently working on a few prosection videos with prepared cadavers that can be used for instruction purposes.”
What’s your own situation at home?
“I’ve currently self-quarantined. My wife is in a high-risk category, so I need to make sure I’m not infected. I am still working as usual though; there are all sorts of consultations and meetings throughout the day. I try to do this via Skype and Zoom as far as possible, although it doesn’t always run smoothly. In one meeting, one participant didn’t have any audio; in another, half of the participants were unable to connect. It’s clear that a lot of these systems aren’t entirely prepared for people working from home on this scale. It takes ten minutes before you even get to talking. And then everyone wants to first discuss Mark Rutte’s speech or inquire after other people’s health.”
How do you make sure you have enough food and so on?
“I still go out for groceries occasionally. I live close to the shops here in Scheveningen, so I try to pick up as much as I can from my local greengrocer’s and cheese shop, as well as the Albert Heijn on rare occasions. The last time I went out was Thursday, and I have to admit I bought enough to last us two weeks, but that’s due to our home situation. I definitely wouldn’t call it hoarding, but I did stock up on some items so I don’t have to go out every day. And if I see twenty other people in the shop, I wait outside until it’s quieter.”
Do you still go out – to the beach, for example?
“It’s definitely an option, although I haven’t done it so far. The weather’s nice today [Wednesday, Eds.], so it may be a good idea to stroll through the dunes for a bit. Maybe after we’ve finished this interview. But it’s busy too, so I haven’t gotten round to it yet. It’s a regular week day after all.”