Waking Up at the Morgue
"Waking up on a slab in a morgue. The story of a character who's been processed and discarded by the bureaucratic machinery of the world…"If you have a character that has regeneration or Resurrective Immortality, a great way for them to discover the power is for them to wake up at the morgue. Can also be done if the character is drugged or Faking the Dead. Either way it can be shocking, as the last place a person wants to be is at the morgue. Naturally, there will be much confusion the first time it happens to someone, with or without amnesia. Compare Rise from Your Grave. Can be a form of First Episode Resurrection. Believe it or not, this is an example of Truth in Television. Rare today (though there is the occasional, erm, incident...), but more common in ages past when medical science wasn't all it is now. The only thing worse than waking up in the morgue, of course, was to be actually Buried Alive, which could also happen from time to time.note And better not think what would happen if you're slated for dissection...
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- A commercial for Droid smartphones starts In Media Res with a man escaping a morgue's body-drawer, then finding his phone's charge is almost gone. Cue a long series of flashbacks to show how he'd spent the last 48 hours since he'd charged it.
Anime and Manga
- This happens to Hyatt of Excel Saga as a matter of course. Her condition has her constantly dying in an exaggerated manner only to stand up again as she's incapable of staying dead.
- In the first few pages of the manga series Variante, this happens.
- Since it's about an immortal who dies a lot, Mnemosyne has this happen on more than one occasion.
- The Puma Sisters wake up in the morgue in Shirow Masamune's Dominion Conflict 1: No More Noise. But they're not very surprised—after all, they went to sleep there, thinking it was awfully nice of Newport City Police to provide such nice beds for them.
- In Black Butler, Shinigami Grell falls asleep on the side of the road and forgets to breathe. He's mistaken for dead and taken to the local undertaker, where he wakes up after being called a fourth rate body by the undertaker.
- In Preacher Cassidy shoves a knife through his own throat in order to leave a serial killer's house in a bodybag during daylight hours. Once the sun's gone down he pops out of his bag, bums a cigarette from the morgue attendant and goes on his way.
- Hannibal King wakes up in the Morgue after being turned into a vampire in The Tomb of Dracula.
- Crispus Allen during Infinite Crisis woke up in a morgue, but was actually dead and had an autopsy. Turns out he was just chosen to be the new host for the Specter and he's neither alive nor dead now.
- In one issue of Astro City: Local Heroes, mention is made of the time Supersonic simply revived at the morgue despite being to all medical appearances 100% dead. A lawyer uses this as precedent to suggest that the woman his client "killed" could have been still alive before her autopsy was performed.
- After dying from injuries sustained in a battle with Neron, Wonder Woman is transformed into a goddess and wakes up after being autopsied and stuffed into a bodybag.
- Happened to Norman Osborn in a Retcon after his climactic battle with Spider-man following the death of Gwen Stacy—first thing he did was murder a vagrant who vaguely looked liked him and put the poor guy's corpse in his place, then made off for Europe to build a criminal empire once he saw that his son Harry was going to take over the Goblin identity.
- Happens to Deadpool a lot given his Healing Factor. It only really fazes him anymore if he wakes up in a more interesting location
Deadpool, wakes up on a dock: Huh, usually when I wake up in a bodybag I'm in a morgue. This isn't a morgue.
- Happens in the 2007 movie Rise: Blood Hunter: The reporter Sadie Blake after being attacked and left for dead by a vampire wakes up in a cold box and has to kick it open to get out. After hunting down and killing her attacker, she ends up dead again and the last shot is of her body being shelved into a cold box in the morgue. The very last shot is of her kicking open the box.
- In the first Blade film, a vampire whom Blade set on fire wakes up in the middle of his own autopsy and takes a bite out of the medical examiner. Blade noted that the vampire in question and the Big Bad were exceptionally hard to kill. Apparently, Blade had staked him before and it didn't take. Hence the fire, and the M.E. developing the magic ammo.
- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. During the end credits, Leslie Vernon is shown being wheeled around in a morgue. While the lab technician's back is turned, Vernon sits up on the table.
- In the live-action Street Fighter movie, an example that involves Faking the Dead as Guile wakes up in a morgue (scaring Chun-Li in the process) after apparently getting shot by Ryu and Ken during their prison break. Of course, it was all part of the plan to get Ryu and Ken on Bison and Sagat's good side so that they could take them down later.
- Innocent Blood, a recently-vampirized mob boss wakes up at the morgue. He is quite disgruntled to find a thermometer sticking out of his stomach and a man standing over him with a bonesaw.
- A man wakes up at his own funeral - or actually his wake in The Shipping News. The main character, Quoyle, has trouble explaining this to his young daughter, who doesn't quite understand the difference between death and sleep.
- In Death Becomes Her Madeline fainted after finding out that she died. She ended up waking up in the morgue in a body bag.
- Parodied in Fletch Lives. Fletch fakes being dead to sneak into a morgue. He hides in a locker to avoid getting caught and ends up scaring a janitor.
- Sean William Scott's character does this in a post-credits in the movie Cop Out with no explanation as to how he survived
- Connor MacLeod does this as part of the backstory in Highlander (1986). He is an immortal who can only die permanently if his head is chopped off. As a result, other methods of death just end with him standing up again as soon as his body has healed enough to stop being dead.
- Also used in Highlander II: The Quickening by Conner and Ramirez to sneak into the shield facility. When they wake up, they snarkily compare how many bullets they took getting 'killed.'
- In Danger: Diabolik, the title character escapes a police dragnet by taking a pill that puts him in a death-like state. His Dark Mistress gives him the antidote just in time for him to stop his own autopsy.
- In Die Nacht der lebenden Loser (Night of the Living Dorks), a German horror comedy, three boys are killed in a car accident while driving home after a voodoo ceremony. They wake up at the morgue as zombies.
- In Nightbreed, Aaron Boone is shot to death by the police after his Psycho Psychologist frames him for his crimes. He awakens at the morgue as a new member of the supernatural Nightbreed and escapes to go live with them.
- Slasher Movie sequels Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Cold Prey 2 and See No Evil 2 start with their respective villains being taken to a morgue, and springing back to life there. Cue murder with local tools.
- Michael Stackpole's Fiddleback Trilogy similarly opens with the amnesia variation.
- Betsy the Vampire Queen in the Undead series by Mary Janice-Davidson discovers she's a vampire on waking up in a funeral home after a truck hits her. But having died isn't important to her; what's important is the hideous pink shoes she's in.
- The protagonist of The Lives Of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones learns of his regenerating power after he accidentally has his skull broken by a cricket bat, and wakes up in the morgue perfectly intact.
- Stephen King's story Autopsy Room Four is told from the point of view of a character to whom this happens after he's bitten by an exotic snake. The story is a homage to, and follows the plot of, the Louis Pollack story Breakdown, first published in Colliers (June 7, 1947), which has a character who is completely paralyzed in an auto accident and must prove that he is alive to avoid being autopsied. The female pathologist checks a scar near his lower parts which gets him kind of... excited
- In Gordon R. Dickson's Necromancer (part of the Childe Cycle), the protagonist transfers his consciousness to a specially prepared body in a morgue.
- In Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends, the protagonist, a vampire, wakes in a morgue after her body is discovered and her mortal boyfriend is arrested for murder. It is a rude awakening, as she is woken up by a necrophiliac mortician attempting to misuse her corpse.
- Happens to The Stainless Steel Rat after he's ambushed by his Evil Is Sexy opponent Angelina. His life is saved by luck and his bulletproof underwear, so he uses this as an opportunity to fake his death as well as play Musical Identity Tags with the other corpses as a joke.
- The protagonist in a Dark Conspiracy novel wakes up just as they're preparing to harvest his body for organs. He manages to alert them to the fact that he's alive, only to have the doctor order the orderlies to strap him down as he prepares to continue anyway.
- Harry Dresden is injured at the end of Death Masks and wakes up in the morgue with the coroner standing over him. He freaks out and starts yelling "I'm not dead! I'm not dead!" They knew, they just couldn't send him to the hospital with a bullet wound and so had their coroner friend treat himnote
- It's on an Igor's table rather than the morgue, but this happens to Nutt in the Discworld series.
- Averted in Men at Arms, but only because the Watch didn't actually have a morgue, so Carrot left Angua's body in a bedroom to await her moonrise revival.
- Avoiding this is the purpose of Granny Weatherwax's "I aten't ded" sign. When she 'rides' an animal or group of animals her body goes into a deathlike state.
- In a variant, the protagonist of Strong Spirits is hauled off to the morgue while engaging in astral projection, and is unable to re-enter his inert body because of interference by a rival medium. He doesn't actually wake up there, but a friend who knows of his paranormal experiments intervenes before he has to watch his own body being autopsied.
- There is a short story by Edmond Hamilton about a man who woke up in his family crypt, after being considered dead. He walked around the city, listened to what people really thought of him - and decided to go back into his coffin.
- Averted by Jack Fleming from The Vampire Files, who woke up on the shore of Lake Michigan instead. Invoked in-character by Escott in the same series, when he tells Gaylen that Fleming had died of food poisoning rather than reveal he'd been worked over and murdered by mobsters.
- Blaze from Silicon Wolfpack woke up in a morgue, cut his way out of a body bag, and was greeted by a reaper, who informed him that he was having a near-death experience.
- Played with in Michael Crichton's The Great Train Robbery. The crew exploits a Victorian-era fear of this by having a member fake being dead, but give a false positive on the bell attached to his finger in his casket so that the police would be reluctant to search the coffin with the grieving widow right there.
- In James Blaylock's Homunculus, Willis Pule is knocked unconscious during a scuffle with zombies, then hauled away with the bodies left behind when they de-animate. Pule's skin had been stained pale green in an earlier incident, so whomever collected the bodies can't be wholly blamed for mistaking him for yet another corpse.
- The plot of Terminal World is kicked off when an angel wakes up in Dr. Quillion's morgue with a message for him.
- "Breakdown," an episode the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, based on a story by Louis Pollack (1955).
- An early episode of Heroes, when Claire, a character with a Healing Factor apparently killed last episode, has her regeneration powers only kick in when the branch in her head is removed. She wakes up, looks down, and sees her ribs exposed for autopsy.
- It also implies the medical examiner never bothered to take pictures before she started the autopsy. Else, Claire's photo would surely have been circulated on the news, and the Bennetts would've gotten a visit from the police once someone recognized her.
- Her father, brought back with life with an infusion of her blood, not only goes through something similar, but has the same reaction.
Bennett: ...holy sh— *episode ends*
- Smallville: In the first season one Kryptonite Freak Of The Week's powers manifested when he woke up in the morgue. He'd been thrown out a window and woke up just in time to grab the coroner's arm and stop him from cutting him open with the bonesaw.
- Also happened to Chloe in the season seven premiere, as part of her healing powers.
- Obviously happens all the time in the Highlander franchise.
- Doctor Who, the Made-for-TV Movie. The Seventh Doctor is shot upon his arrival on Earth by a street gang. He dies on the operating table thanks to the doctors inadvertently killing him due to his different anatomy, and later regenerates into the Eighth Doctor and wakes up inside one of those metal box cooling units in a hospital morgue. With amnesia, due to a malfunction in the regeneration process.
- And proceeds to scare the shit out of the attending orderly by kicking his way out via Barrier-Busting Blow. Apparently the orderly wasn't Genre Savvy enough to know that if you hear something kicking inside a morgue vault, don't go toward it.
- In "Death in Heaven" Danny Pink does this, and finds to his horror that he's been turned into a Cyberman.
- Ghost Whisperer twists this trope when a corpse wakes up in the morgue in the episode "The Walk-In." Not because he wasn't dead (he was), but because another ghost took the opportunity to possess his body.
- In a episode of Alias Sydney gets wheeled into a morgue as part of a Faking the Dead ploy. Naturally, she wakes up and beats people up.
- In an episode of Firefly a presumed corpse wakes up when Simon begins his autopsy. Admittedly, Serenity doesn't technically have a morgue...
- But the hospital on planet Ariel did. Which is why Simon isn't as put off by this happening as the others are, given that he and River did wake up in a morgue after faking their own death in a similar fashion, a few episodes earlier. Note that one of the first things he does after realizing this is to ask Jayne to hand him a bowl because he knows that one of the side effects of the drug used for that is vomiting.
- In a season 2 episode of Lost, "?", this has happened to a girl who was believed to have drowned. It's not actually shown, but we get to hear the coroner's audio recording of the interrupted autopsy. It's later indicated that the girl was actually dead for while.
- This is the only time Lost ever ascends to actual horror with a genuinely chilling turn of events.
- Happens at least Once an Episode in Pushing Daisies, but most of the corpses don't stay alive very long.
- Happened more than once in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (unsurprisingly).
- The fake Anointed One in the funeral home in season 1.
- The vampire in the hospital in "The Body".
- The vampire Teresa in "Phases" in season 2 wakes up in her coffin in a funeral home...
- As does some unnamed lady in "Help" in season 7.
- Also, the robot Ted mentions the look on the coroner's face after he woke up from an apparent death.
- In vampire cop show Forever Knight, the protagonist met his coroner friend when he woke up on her autopsy table.
- Happens in the pilot of New Amsterdam. Initially it appears to be a throwaway gag and a way to explain John's "gift". It actually ends up having serious repercussions across the season, as in this day and age you can't just stroll out of the morgue without explaining yourself.
- The reverse of this trope was the entire premise behind Tru Calling. The protagonist discovered her powers when other people woke up in the morgue.
- Subverted in a CSI episode, when the senior coroner was walking his assistant through a routine autopsy on a (supposed) death by cardiac arrest. When David (the assistant) began the Y-incision, though, the "corpse" bled heavily and the two doctors rushed to resuscitate the man. Unfortunately, the man dies without regaining consciousness, and the coroners eventually discover that he was poisoned. Cue Grissom and Brass.
- CSI: Miami Had much worse more close moment. A body of a young woman, was lying in a morgue locker, when she suddenly woke up. She was in shock, and disoriented. Luck was on her side, since coroner Alex Woods was close by, and was the one who opened the locker. As it later revealed, a woman was cooled by enormous amount of cold water. She survived.
- A similar deal in a Breakdown inspired episode of Crossing Jordan.
- The British sitcom Mulberry features the son of Death who is trying to get into the family business and has been ordered to kill a wealthy old woman who he winds up befriending instead (it's more lighthearted than you might think). In one episode, Mulberry has an accident and is taken to the morgue. His father is kind enough to take him out of the freezer and remind him that he can't die.
- An episode of Tales from the Crypt involved a medical researcher getting some morbid payback on his practical-joking brother. The researcher (whose brother had accidentally maimed him during a long-ago botched prank) had developed a serum which induced a state of total bodily paralysis. He drugged his Jerkass bro with it, then let his helpless but conscious sibling believe he'd died, yet somehow remained aware of what happened to his body. The drug wore off just as the M.E. was leaning over him with the bone saw... and then the jokester had a real heart attack, when the researcher popped into the (faked) "morgue" and the "M.E." revealed he'd been in on the prank. Nope, the guy didn't wake up in the for-real morgue.
- In the NCIS episode "Iceman," the medical examiner Ducky is in autopsy, doing his usual "talking to the corpse" thing as he's fixing his morning tea. When the tea kettle starts whistling, the "corpse" opens his eyes and sits up. Apparently the man was found nearly frozen, and "a body isn't dead until it's warm and dead." The man however, has severe brain damage because of a lack of oxygen when he was frozen, and dies at the end anyway.
- In one episode of Bones the Victim of the Week was presumed dead of a heart attack, but Bones knew better. It turned out he had been poisoned; but to add injury to injury, he hadn't quite been poisoned to death: he awoke in the funeral home's embalming room. The embalmer was so surprised he stabbed him to death.
- In the series 1 finale of Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness fights an Eldritch Abomination that feeds on life energy. Since Jack is immortal, he lets the monster have as much as he wants from him, causing Abaddon to "choke" on it and die. Jack himself is seen as completely blue and unresponsive. The team assumes that this was too much even for Jack. As they say their good-byes in the Torchwood morgue, only Gwen is left by his side. She kisses him and turns to leave, only to hear a weak "Thank you." Slightly subverted in that he's used to being killed and is not shocked.
- In an episode of Quincy, a victim wakes up on the autopsy table causing a substitute coroner to go running out of of autopsy yelling "We've got a live one!"
- This happens to a college professor who had been experimenting with a mind-enhancing drug in the The Outer Limits (1963) episode "Expanding Human".
- Leonard Betts, the Monster of the Week from The X-Files episode "Leonard Betts" walks away from the morgue. After decapitation, no less. His regenerative power was truly impressive.
- The House episode "Brave Heart" concerned a patient who was convinced he was going to die of a heart attack. When he had his heart attack, Foreman called House in to observe so that he could get his answer. The man began screaming seconds after Foreman started slicing him up the middle.
House: I guess the autopsy's going to have to wait a little bit.
- In an earlier episode, House brought Kutner and Taub down to the morgue to see the body of a young woman who Kutner diagnosed online under House's name with Taub's help. House berated them and told them their incompetence cost the woman her life. He then said he might still be able to save her, and, to Kutner and Taub's puzzlement, started doing chest compressions on the woman, who then gasped and sat bolt upright. It turned out she was a hooker House hired to teach them a lesson.
- Rizzoli & Isles: Someone is delivered to the morgue not quite dead in "This Is How A Heart Breaks". Maura realises he is alive when she feels a pulse in his penis. She saves his life by by performing an emergency tracheotomy.
- In the Castle episode "Undead Again", a man who happens to be the main suspect in a murder is found dead. Since it's a zombie-themed episode, Castle expects him to rise like a zombie. Pearlmutter assures him that he won't, then jabs him in the forearm. Cue rising like a zombie. Of course, he wasn't a zombie, but had been dosed with a drug that put him in a fugue-like state and no memory of what happened during that time (in this instance, told to kill the victim of the week by a rival, the man who dosed him.)
- In an episode of The Mob Doctor, a patient comes into the emergency room and then has an apparent heart attack. The doctor is trying to explain what happened to the man's pregnant wife. She insists on seeing her husband's body. The body is still in the trauma room so they take the wife there. Then the husband wakes up and wants to know what is going on and why his wife is crying. The man apparently has a very rare condition where his heart can stop for a few minutes and then start beating again. The rest of the episode the doctors try to determined what caused the condition and how to stop it from occurring again since the next time the man might not wake up. Also they do not want to be know as the doctors who had the same patient die on them twice in a day.
- Piper does this in the Charmed episode "Styx Feet Under". Since the FBI agent who's been following them for the last few episodes is in the room when it happens, it's the event that finally allows him to penetrate The Masquerade.
- In Being Human (UK), this happens to Sasha and the other zombies. In Sasha's case, she wakes up just as they're about to dissect her and proceeds to scream pissily at the coroner for it. She doesn't seem particularly phased by any of it but the other zombies, who are dissected while awake and thrown into furnaces, aren't quite so lucky.
- The music video for Incubus' Anna Molly
- The Irish folk song "Tim Finnegan's Wake", thanks to some whiskey (not a morgue, but close enough)
- The basis for Bound characters in Geist: The Sin-Eaters.
- Juliet did the medieval equivalent (waking up in the burial vault) in Romeo and Juliet. The twist is that she deliberately feigned death and expected to find herself there when she woke up. Too bad Romeo didn't get the memo and had already killed himself out of grief.
- Planescape: Torment opens with this scene. Mind you, the morgue is three storeys high and staffed by, variously, zombies and skeletons in various states of decay and the death-obsessed. Features amnesia, although the character has instructions carved on his back and a helpful talking flying smartmouthed skull willing to read them out loud to you.
- The Shadowrun game for the SNES opens with the Amnesiac Hero Waking Up At The Morgue. And scaring the hell out of the morgue attendants, who think that he is a zombie.note This is also referenced in Shadowrun Returns when you wake up the very same Jake Armitage in the morgue.
- While it's not immediately after his assumed death, in Ghost Trick Yomiel uses Sissel's body to infiltrate the police morgue and possess his own seemingly-dead body. Yomiel then gets off the table and walks out the door. The medical examiner promptly quit his job in order to devote his life to finding out what the fuck just happened.
- Nightbreed: The Interactive Movie highlights one of the problems with trying this mid-game. The player has to allow themself to be killed in order to awaken his hidden powers, which obviously isn't preferred. It doesn't help that this only works after a specific, completely un-hidden-power-related event has taken place (which involves another apparent fail condition, by the way). Then again, interactive movies are not known for their logic, self-consistency or quality...
- World of Warcraft takes this to its logical extreme. If you start a new Undead character, you literally wake up inside a graveyard.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has a quest for the Dark Brotherhood (the local assassins' guild) where you have to help someone fake his own death. You have to deliver the antidote to him personally, and he thusly wakes up in the mausoleum.
- In Prototype, the protagonist does this near the beginning of the game, much to the surprise of the two (presumed) pathologists who were about to autopsy him (while he was still fully clothed, for some reason).
- Though, this could be because he's a Shape Shifter who even has the ability to spontaneously create the clothing of the person whose identity he takes.
- Given that the pair of pathologists' reactions to him waking up are "Get the kill team in here!" rather than, say, "Call the EMPs," they might not have been as surprised as you'd think. They were, after all, working for GENTEK, and get themselves killed by yelling at Blackwatch.
- A couple of Legacy of Kain games start this way (including the first one, after a brief intro); fitting, given the nature of the "protagonists."
- Midnight Nowhere opens exactly like this.
- We don't get to see it, but it happens in Batman: Arkham Asylum: when you first visit the morgue, one of the bodies stored there is that of Ra's Al Ghul (which you can find out by investigating). Knowing who Ra's is, when you come back later, he's long gone from the morgue.
- In The Curse of Monkey Island, Guybrush has to fake his death with a paralysing drink in order to get into a crypt by way of burial. He then has to do it again to get into another crypt.
- In Sanitarium, the act "The Morgue" starts you out, appropriately enough, inside a locker in the morgue. (Since you were just earlier a four-armed cyclopean hero from a comic book, how you ended up there in human form is not explained.)
- It's not technically a morgue, but in Kingdoms Of Amalur, you wake up in a rotting pile of corpses which is where the resident Mad Scientist has been storing his failed reincarnation experiments.
- After witnessing The End of the World as We Know It and having a Creepy Child drop a demonic parasite that devours his eye and burrows into his head, the Demi-Fiend's day starts as he wakes up at Shinjuku Hygienic Hospital's morgue. And everything promptly gets worse.
- Tina of Wapsi Square woke up in a morgue with amnesia as part of her backstory. The catch was that the original Tina had actually died, and her demons had taken over the body.
- The titular Sidekick Girl does this once after being captured by The Coroner, a supervillain who wants to autopsy all the world's superheros so he can figure out how their powers work. Her healing factor allowed her to recover from his ministrations. The other super he captured wasn't so lucky.
- Doc from The White Board wakes up in a hospital room underneath his paintball shop (courtesy of DARPA; It Makes Sense in Context) covered in a sheet and with a toe tag. Why he woke up there was never explained.
- A funeral service is being held in a church for a woman who has just passed away. At the end of the service, the pallbearers carrying the casket accidentally bump into a wall jarring the casket. They hear a faint moan. They open the casket and find that the woman is actually alive. She lives for 10 more years and then dies. A ceremony is again held at the same church and at the end the pallbearers are again carrying the casket out. As they are walking, the husband calls out, "Watch out for the wall!"
- Waking up in the morgue does (rarely) happen in real life. A woman named Allison Burchell, who had a severe form of a rare condition called cataplexy, was mistaken for dead on three separate occasions. It was more common in the past, before advances in medical technology made it possible to detect very faint signs of life. This probably led to several people being Buried Alive.
- A really creepy version of this happened with turn-of-the-century magician Walford Bodie. He was prone to severe seizures, and carried a note explaining the care that he should be given if he was found apparently dead. He revived several times after these seizures, but at one point he had a seizure, and the doctor treating him either didn't read the note, or didn't find it, and he was autopsied even though he probably wasn't actually dead.
- Snopes has a good list of these, some of which are hilarious, others horrifying.
- Venezuelan dude was being examined in the morgue when the doctors noticed he was bleeding, and decided to stitch the wound without thinking there was anything odd (even if bleeding is a luxury of living beings). Then he sits on the table, screaming.
- A Russian woman, Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov, suffered a fatal heart attack after waking up during her own funeral, and finding herself surrounded by mourners.
- In 1786, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, then a sergeant of Louis XVI's army, suffered from a severe lung disease, was mistaken for dead and only narrowly escaped a premature burial, thanks to the meticulousness of a young surgeon.