By Amanda Pearson
The room had a strange aroma of pig. Not quite ham—more of a nauseating smell. The smell of fluids would really be the best way to describe it.
I saw them that morning. A small, metal tray on wheels floating down the hallway, filled with plastic bags that were bulging with amniotic fluids, and a collection of small, premature piglets. At a glance, they all looked like little, raisined fingertips, the way your fingers get after you’ve been in the tub or the pool for too long. But of course, these little guys were not water-soaked fingers having fun splashing around in the tub.
Students all around me were excited to cut into their adolescent pig and see the “guts and stuff,” as one of my most sophisticated classmates called it. The little babes were sorted among my third period classmates, who had all divided into small groups of two or three and were crowding around the sealed bags, waiting for the go-ahead. Miss Amason stood at the front of the class in a simple white lab coat. Her glasses were skewed behind a thick pair of old goggles, and everyone had a pair to match. The boys cut open their bags in a hurry, and girls followed suit. They put a nice large slit down the middle of the clear bag, releasing the fluids into one of the old plastic tubs that were on every other table.
I was, of course, the only person who was not looking forward to digging around some poor pig’s intestines. Yet even after a request, I was unable to be excused from the practice of anatomy because it was “a crucial lesson that will help you understand the human body and what’s inside us all”—even though I did not care, nor had I ever cared, about a pig’s or my own small intestine. The hour started to pass as I sat by the corner of the table, gagging and filling out our report.
The two girls that were in my group were a part of a small alliance that was unrecognized by themselves as the KKK (though everyone I knew referred to them as so). Karissa, Kassidy, Karla, and Kayce. All blonde with names that started with K’s, so it is easy to see where the inappropriate nickname stemmed from. I was close with a few of these girls during different times throughout elementary and high school. Kassidy and Karla joined me on the day the pigs died, and both enjoyed it more than I could ever understand.
They had utensils in their hands at all times. The white gloves that covered their hands were thrusting deep down inside of the piglet, jarring things in every direction. A small puddle of fluids gathered in the corner of the table by my papers, and I was forced to take my notes off the table and keep them in my lap instead.
Fetal pigs are used for dissection because they are one of the mammals closest to the human in their anatomy. The pigs are not bred for dissection but are a product of the pork industry. I am only assuming that the unwanted, the incompetent pigs, are rejected from the business of becoming pork and are forced to be cut open much sooner in life instead. Not all of the outcasts are used for dissection, though. Many piglets will become fertilizer or will simply be thrown away. I asked once why it was socially acceptable to discard a fetal pig after it was mutilated, and the answer given to me by the so-called smart kid in my class was, “Pigs are not pets, therefore no one thinks of dissecting them as a horrible act.”
We were asked to discover the sex of our pig, and the girls decided that we indeed did have a boy. They proceeded to name him Henry. He was in our class for three
days. The janitors brought a milk cooler to hold the bodies between class periods. The back half of the school stank for the entire week, but the odor was stuck in my nostrils for even longer. I couldn’t escape the smell. Not in Spanish class or math. English was a waste of time that week because I was too busy thinking of Henry and his siblings filling the milk coolers that little children once used for snack time.
I continued down this train of thought as it took me from different stories I read or was told. I thought of Animal Farm, which to this day I have not read, and Charlotte’s Web. Wilbur was in my mind often during that week, and how the little girl saved him as her own pet—one prime example of how pigs can be pets. An example I wanted to shove in the face of the smart kid whose answer was not acceptable to me. Pigs could, in fact, be pets.
Was poor Henry just a part of a way of life? Dissection was used in every single school I went to throughout my school days. First it was owl’s poop. Next was a cow’s eye. Then the frog. Henry came next. I was supposed to dissect a turtle but was excused for that one because of my gagging. Some students even dissected a cat. Luckily, I was not in this class, or I do believe I wouldn’t gag at all, but instead would have started to vomit immediately.
The last day of dissection was the closest I came to throwing up. My KKK members were still having fun probing Henry’s guts but were finding less humor in that day’s activities than the previous two. To retain their interest, they started making their own guidelines instead of using the ones that were in my pamphlet. They attempted to cut off his foot. A failed attempt. Next, they took out his liver and cut it wide open, followed by his heart and his lungs. Finally, they tried to pry his eyes open.
Scissors and tweezers were used during this surgery. His eyes were cold, black circles when they were forced open. Henry just stared off into space, something I had been trying to do over the course of dissection week. New fumes were released throughout that last day, but the worst was one I might have imagined. His eyes not only pierced through me but made my nostrils flare with an uncomfortable odor that only I seemed to notice.
High fives were given, boys were invited to come and look. Miss Amason did not object but looked on with what I thought looked like a disapproving nod. I alone sat by the small corner of our lab table, eyes roaming the room for anywhere else to look. I made eye contact with several other pigs that day because after Kassidy and Karla tried it, everyone else had to see if they could pry open the eyes of their own dissembled piglets.
Pigs are the fourth smartest animal in the world. Their intelligence starts off young, and many piglets will learn their names, if given one. In two to three weeks they can respond to those names. Pigs are also very clean animals and will seldom poop by their homes. Even piglets that are a few hours old will leave their sleeping areas to use the bathroom. Human babies can’t do that but instead poop on themselves. People misunderstand pigs because pigs roll around in mud; therefore, people demean them and consider them to be disgusting animals. But pigs roll in mud to keep cool and prefer water to mud when available. In comparison, some women pay up to $100 for a mud bath because it is viewed as a luxury at many spas.
Pigs are not only smart but are fast. The average pig can run a mile in seven minutes while the average speed for a human is ten minutes. Pigs seem to be a little misunderstood, and this makes it okay for children or young adults to cut them open and probe them.
Clean-up was the worst. I was forced to help wash my table and bin. Little Henry was thrown into the special garbage can that looked like the exact ones we used during lunch shifts. All extra fluids were dumped into a separate bucket that looked identical to the first. Both buckets were both rolled down the hallway. A small clicking noise filled the halls as what was left of the piglets rolled away.
Amanda Pearson is a senior at Bemidji State University and will graduate with a major in creative and professional writing and minor in English.