Once upon a time, it was summer. The summer season meant two things for the medical examiner’s office. Homicides and decomposed bodies.
On the other hand, they’re very stressful. Absolutely every piece of clothing, every accessory, every hair tie, every piercing is evidence that has to be photographed, logged, and collected. Tensions run high because there is a killer on the loose and sometimes the preliminary results of the autopsy can lead to an arrest. Everyone involved with these cases is likely to be subpoenaed and deposed at some time. This makes the whole situation stressful for all parties involved, including but not limited to: the pathologist, the forensic technicians, and the crime scene investigators.
Because of the stress involved with homicides, I preferred working with pathologists on decomposed bodies.
Here’s where things get messy.
In recent years, Hollywood has been a lot better about depicting decomposed bodies on television. It used to be that they’d say the body was decomposed and then zoom in to show eyes that were glazed over.
Writers, get ready. I’m about to get real with everyone about what a decomposed body actually looks like.
Decomposed bodies often look green and marbled. Marbled as in a marble floor. So imagine a marble floor. But instead of a white or off-white coloring with grey streaks, it’s varying shades of putrid green. And when you walk across it in your bare feet, it feels really slimy and the top layer slides under your feet, sticking to the calluses on your heels and toes, like chicken fat.
And then there’s the smell. To say it smells like death doesn’t serve it justice. It’s more like a combination of rotting meat and ammonia.
And then there’s the hair. All it takes is the swipe of a gloved hand across the back of the head for all of the hair to come off.
So how did we handle this environment? A normal reaction would be nausea and a lack of any kind of appetite. You would think that this kind of job would cause its employees to lose weight. That wasn’t the case for me. Nope. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m many things but normal isn’t one of them. No offense to my former coworkers, but no one working this field was normal.
Case in point: what did my favorite pathologist and I talk about while working on decomposed cases? Lunch. We talked about lunch the entire time. There was something about these cases that made both of us hungry. Our stomachs rumbled during the entire examination.
Here we are, performing an autopsy on a decomposed body and there were a couple of new police officers attending as well because their training officer was mean. (New police officers often attended autopsies at one of the offices I worked at but this was the first time they were ever told to attend this kind of autopsy. Car accidents? Sure. Drug overdoses? Absolutely. Decomposed bodies? I thought the goal of every police department was to boost their numbers, not send their new hires running.)
After we exhausted our debate over whether or not we were going to have pizza for lunch or sub sandwiches the room fell quiet.
One of the officers attending the autopsy asked me, “What was it that made you want to get into this field?”
So there I am, covered head-to-toe in personal protective equipment (PPE) which consisted of a plastic shield that covered my entire face, a blue plastic gown and blue paper booties that covered my shoes. I held up my gloved hands that are covered in dead-person goo and what do I say?
“I wanted a job where I could get my hands dirty.”
As always, if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments or send me an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for shopping Snark, Sass, & Sarcasm. I’ll see you next time!
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