3:00 a.m. I'm not sure why I'm awake so early in the morning when I don't have to be. Maybe I miss going out on surveillances. Maybe I miss my morning tea and the cozy seat warmers in my truck and ranchero breakfast wraps from the BP station.
I must be insane. I'm thinking of saving up a few cases and going on a roadtrip one of these weekends.
On the other hand, maybe I'll wait until spring so that I won't be freezing my moneymaker off in the back of my truck...
Several nights ago I had to pick up a police report off the fax and inspect a body at the morgue. It was late...almost midnight. Generally, I would wait until daytime, but I needed that information for my report that was due in the morning.
Now, I've told you before that the MEO is a rather foreboding place but I didn't actually describe it to you. You see, this office is a temporary facility. It used to be a nursing home.
Light Haired Man is still visiting and drives me over since I am still on drugs from my kidney infection/stone and operating heavy machinery (or even light machinery such as a television remote or a microwave oven, for that matter) is not a good idea yet. He's never been to a morgue before and I try to prepare him because I'm going to have to go to the autopsy suite and get a wallet off my Dead Guy's body.
I pass my keycard through the security pad at the front entrance and the red light on the monitor turns green. I open the door and we walk into the dark vestibule.
"Did you notice that the van is gone?" My voice echoes off the marble walls and floor as I walk toward the locked double doors that lead to the offices. "Whoever is on call tonight is bringing in a body."
I turn my key in the lock and enter the office area with LHM close behind me. I flip on the light and look around. There is a stack of papers in Joy's inbox that has got to be a foot high with autopsy reports, faxes, and bureaucratic BS memos from the county government. I reach into the candy dish that is always full on her desk and grab a handful of M & M's before I turn the corner toward the fax machine. I note the inch thick stack of papers in the tray. Excellent. My police report. I take several minutes to leaf through it while LHM noses around a bit.
After I finish skimming the paperwork, I walk down the hall to find LHM in the process of photocopying his face on the office copy machine. I smile.
"Hey!", I scold, "That's government property you're tampering with!"
LHM looks up at me. "Oh...yeah. Well, I was just walking by and I fell and... Luckily I closed my eyes just in time or I could have gone blind!"
I laugh. "Well, at least I got here before you started getting too creative. Come on. Let's go to the autopsy suite so I can note this guy's ID info and we can get out of here."
We walk past Nancy and Dr. Frank's offices and through another set of locked doors. We head down a long corridor, a couple hundred feet in length. I hit the light and a series of fluorescent bulbs buzz on in the ceiling.
LHM looks around as we walk. This portion of the building has been gutted. You can tell there used to be resident rooms on either side of the hallway, but the doors and non-load-bearing walls have been demolished. Stacks of drywall and bricks on wooden palates fill dark corners to the left.
"This kind of reminds me of a horror flick," LHM says as we continue walking. We pass a side corridor on the right that T's off at the end. I look down it. A faint light is glowing from the left and I can hear the loud hissing of steam moving through pipes.
"That's the boiler room down there," I point. Is it my imagination or is the big, burly LHM trying not to freak out? I smile smugly to myself.
Yes...the MEO has its very own boiler room. As if being in the presence of dead people isn't creepy enough.
"Great," LHM mumbles softly. "You get to be the mighty heroine that defeats the evil devil spawn zombies and I'll end up playing the roll of the loyal side-kick guy that gets knocked off within the first 20 minutes of the movie. I hate that."
I giggle as I pass my keycard over another security pad and push through a final set of doors.
Suddenly, I hear a high-pitched scream and jump. LHM grabs my shoulders and pulls me with him out of range of...whatever evil might be occupying the autopsy suite.
"Oh, holy mother effing eff!" I know that voice. It's Pippy. She's another deputy ME. "You @$%#!"
I peek around the doorway and see a tall, 35-yr-old red-head with brown freckles peppering her face and hands. She is currently holding her heart like an old man with chest pains.
"Hi, Pip!" I wave and LHM and I come out from behind the door. "I'm just going to ignore the fact that you called me a nasty name and chalk that up to your angina. What's going on?"
Pip ignores my question. "What the hell are you doing here this late? You almost gave me a heart attack!"
"I can see that." I look behind her and note the body on the tray. The bag is open and a set of fingerprint cards is balanced on the Dead Guy's chest. It appears Pip was in the process of checking him in when we so rudely interrupted her.
I introduce LHM to my coworker and we chat for a few minutes as Pip finishes up the prints. As she talks, she is absentmindedly trying to shove Dead Guy's foot into the bag. The zipper keeps getting caught on his big toe, however, so she shoves again, harder, and bends the toe down as she continues to talk. I glance at LHM. He is watching with a somewhat bemused look on his face as Pippy struggles with the toe, bending it this way and that...contorting it in a manner that would make a living man cry out in pain.
I suddenly feel a sense of shame. LHM isn't part of this club of death workers and having him here is making me acutely aware of how irreverent our lot can sometimes be. It's like inviting your minister over for dinner and then having him stumble across your porn collection. Only instead of a minister it's my boyfriend and instead of a porn collection it's a dead guy with a rebellious toe... Umm... Yeah.
Anyway, I am coming to the disturbing realization that no matter how much I didn't want it to happen, I've lost a small piece of my humanity being exposed to death as much as I have. I've become numb to it. What is wrong with me that I can laugh when a body falls off a tray or gets put through the window at the bottom of the ramp?
I come out of my brief reverie and remember that I have a reason for being here in the middle of the night on a weekend. I walk into the cooler and find the body I'm looking for. The decedent's personal belongings are stacked on the tray with him in a paper sack. I reach inside and find the wallet, then turn back toward the doorway. LHM is standing just inside the entrance.
We've got a full house...a couple of fire victims...some decomposed remains...my traffic. There are so many bodies, in fact, that we ran out of trays and have had to start stacking them on the floor. LHM is taking it all in. I try to remember what it was like seeing this for the first time and I suddenly become distinctly aware of the stale smell of cold death that is nearly identical in all ME coolers...the smell that I've become so accustomed to that it rarely even registers in my conscious mind anymore.
"Come on," I say as I reach the door. LHM follows me back into the light and I close the cooler behind me.
Out in the check in area, I open the wallet. I leaf through it, noting about $400 in cash and several credit cards before I finally find the victim's ID. He was a 28-year-old white male. Motorcycle accident. I study the photograph. He was a nice looking guy, I think sadly. Now his head is crushed to the point that I don't think the casket will be open.
The really tragic part of this accident is that the victim probably would have lived had he been wearing his helmet. From witness accounts, he saw the van pull in front of him and hit the breaks. When he knew he couldn't stop in time he laid the bike down on it's side. As the bike continued to skid toward the van, he jumped and hit the pavement...hard...before rolling several feet into the middle of the intersection. That's when he sustained the fatal head trauma.
I finish documenting the info and several minutes later, LHM and I are back in my truck on our way home. It's quiet and I'm looking out the window. "All that money," he says, "It's nothing." I am not sure what he means at first. He goes on. "The credit cards. The cash. They seem to be our goal in life but when it comes down to it they mean nothing when you're dead at 28 and laid out in the morgue. None of that is really important at all."
Hmmm. Philosophical LHM. This should be interesting. I sit back and listen as he talks it out...trying to make sense of things in his mind. He's grasping for the greater meaning that might underlie a tragedy such as this. As I look out the window I wonder if he'll come to the same conclusion that I did. That sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes things just happen.