On May 17, 2021, an edition of UMCH’s own event series ReachHigher was held, where Prof. Klaus Püschel, MD gave a talk titled “The Hamburg Way: Learning from the Dead – Autopsies in COVID-19”.
The former head of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), who retired in October 2020, started his presentation with a general introduction to Forensic Medicine. He then reported on his work at the beginning of the first corona wave in March 2020. At that time, it was Püschel who performed an autopsy on the first German to die from COVID-19. In the months that followed, he and his team – against the explicit recommendation of the Robert Koch Institute – performed between 700 and 800 autopsies on deceased people who had contracted the corona virus, according to their own figures. Their work contributed significantly to the understanding of the disease triggered by SARS-CoV-2. For example, it was determined early on that the deceased were almost all very old, had severe pre-existing conditions or suffered from severe obesity. In the course of his lecture, Prof. Püschel repeatedly pleaded for autopsies to be performed – especially in COVID-19 cases. After all, the risk of infection is extremely low when dissecting dead bodies. Of the approximately 85,000 corona deaths recorded in Germany to date, not a single case is known to have been infected during handling of the deceased. One can only learn from the dead – this core statement of the forensic doctor was impressively reinforced in the course of the event by numerous statistics and personal reports of experience. In his opinion, all doctors should therefore also gain experience in dealing with the dead.
Following the lecture, the students who attended the event on site and online were able to ask their individual questions on the topic of the lecture. Among other questions, Prof. Püschel addressed the issue of how future doctors can prepare themselves mentally and professionally for upcoming pandemics and what lessons they can learn from the current one.