Once upon a time, I was a graduate student working toward a degree in Forensic science. The focus of this degree was called technical investigations (or crime scene investigation). One of the classes I was required to take was called Death Investigation and it was taught by the chief medical examiner in Oklahoma.
This was a fantastic class – if you like seeing pictures of body parts, burned bodies, decomposed bodies, and a lot of blood.
Every now and then I’m asked why I chose death investigation over crime scene investigation. I was offered a job as a crime scene investigator and probably would’ve enjoyed it. But for whatever reason, becoming a death investigator was what I aspired to do.
Investigators at this office were also the autopsy technicians. The chief investigator made it clear that performing autopsies were a large part of the duties and he also stated that most of my time would be spent in the morgue observing autopsies. That way I’d be able to decide if I could handle it and the pathologists would have a sense of whether or not they wanted to work with me.
My first time observing an autopsy I walked inside of the morgue. This room had three autopsy stations. There was one other room across the way that was setup for one autopsy. The single-autopsy room was used for homicides and decomposed bodies.
I walked into the larger of the two rooms. Stainless steel autopsy tables were locked in front of large, stainless steel sinks. The bodies were positioned on each table so that their feet were closest to the sink. A small station with a cutting board was on one side of the table. This was where the pathologist would stand and examine the organs – searching for injuries and signs of disease that could lead to a cause of death. They always, ALWAYS examined the organs, even when it was clear what the cause of death was. They did this just in case a defense lawyer asked them on the stand, “If you didn’t examine the heart then how do you know the victim didn’t drop dead of a heart attack seconds before he was shot? Your honor, if the victim died of a heart attack then my client is innocent of a homicide.”
The station I was assigned to had a motorcycle victim on the table. I took one look at his cracked skull and muttered, “He looks like he has a splitting headache.” Except that I didn’t mutter it. Apparently I said it loud enough that the entire room heard me. Fortunately, everyone in the room laughed. Despite their laughter, I’m still going to file that comment under “Things you probably shouldn’t say during a job interview.”
There was only one other applicant for this position – or at least only one other applicant who made it as far as I did in the application process. I was told – after I was hired – by the other investigators that she worked for a funeral home. She spent her entire time in the morgue flirting with some firefighters who came in to observe an autopsy. And while it’s been over a decade since I was told this so I could be wrong – someone also told me that she kept looking at her reflection in the stainless steel doors to make sure her hair looked okay.
Thanks for shopping Snark, Sass, & Sarcasm!