Monday, December 05, 2005

12/05/05 WARNING: (not quite) GRAPHIC/DISTURBING (yet)

7:26 a.m. I am waiting in the receiving area at the morgue. I pulled my truck in and am currently drinking from a mug of tea that I prepared before I left home. The harvest team should be here any minute.

I check my watch. They're 10 minutes late. I set my tea on the seat next to me and get out of the truck. The automatic door into the autopsy suite slides open and I walk down the ramp in the dark. I feel around the wall for the light. There is a skylight, but it's winter and even though it's only 4pm, it's already twilight outside. I flip the switch and the room is flooded with a bright flourescent glow.

It's chilly in here, so I keep my jacket on. Both of my cell phones, one for my PI job and one for my ME job, are in my pockets. I use my keycard to unlock the double doors and walk into the hall that leads to the main offices of the medical examiner. Maybe they thought they were supposed to meet me out front.

I walk down the dark hall and listen as the hiss from the boiler room gets louder. As I approach, I look down the side hall on my left and see a faint light. Someday I'll have to go down there exploring. Just not today. Or at night. I shiver and continue down the hall. I unlock another set of double doors, go through the vestibule, and then unlock the door to the main office.

I am greeted by the buzz of the fax machine. My police report! Excellent! I take about 10 pages off the machine, grab a handful of M&M's out of the jar on Joy's desk, and head down toward Nancy's office. I sit at her desk and begin to read.

The police report is unremarkable. A single vehicle, single occupant car accident. It occurred at 2am this morning. The driver was a 40-year-old woman. Scene reconstruction indicated that she ran off the shoulder, hit a tree, and rolled several times. She was ejected at some point during the accident...probably through the sunroof. A truck driver happened on the scene shortly after it happened and began CPR even though the decedent was not breathing and unresponsive. The trucker called 911. Police and rescue arrived. She was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead by the ER doctor.

No skid marks. No evasive action. No evidence that she'd tried to gain control the situation.

I got the call at about 6:30 a.m. It wasn't until I arrived at the hospital and spoke to the decedent's husband that I realized we might have something more than an accident on our hands. The man looked devastated and pale when I walked into what they call "the family room". I greeted him and told him I was sorry. Nothing more...just sorry. He nodded his head and his voice cracked as he said that he was, too. I gave him a minute and stalled a bit by asking of he wanted a drink or something to eat. He said no, but thank you. Then I began with my questioning.

The husband told me that his wife had called yesterday evening around 8pm to say she was stuck in traffic and would be home shortly. But she never came home. The husband couldn't explain why. He indicated that she had tried to commit suicide in a car years ago when she had a mental breakdown. She'd been hearing voices that told her to hurt herself. Her husband had brought a bag of medications that she'd been on and gave them to me along with the name and telephone number of her psychiatrist.

After the husband identified the body and I'd sent him home, I walked toward the ER room where the woman was being held. The ER nurse flagged me down in the hall and told me that the family had given consent for her to be a tissue donor and that I should expect a call from tissue bank soon. I thanked her and walked into the examining room, closing the door behind me.

The woman was blond and tan. She looked as if she'd taken good care of herself, physically. Her belly was very distended and she had some severe road rash on her left side that indicated to me she'd bled out severely into her abdomen. I was guessing her aorta may have burst or her spleen was crushed. There was blood and glass in her left ear and large matching abrasions on her shins.

After I'd finished charting all of the IV lines, tubes, EKG patches, etc.. that were on the body, I transported her to the MEO. Just as I pushed her into the cooler, I got a return call from her psychiatrist. I sat down at a table in the morgue and spoke to him about the decedent's mental health history.

The doc told me that it was highly likely this was a suicide attempt. Then I told him that I'd counted out the decedent's pills and found that she'd missed several doses of her anti-psychotic medication...the one that helped quiet the voices. He was not surprised and reiterated that he and the family felt it was just a matter of time before she tried to kill herself again. Before I hung up, I asked to get medical records faxed to our office. The doctor was very cooperative and I thanked him for his help.

Tissue Bank called me a while later and we coordinated the harvesting. I asked them to refrain from taking the pelvic bones or any heart valves because we didn't want to disturb the chest cavity in any way before the autopsy. I asked if I could observe and they were really cool about it. Back several years ago I'd tried to sit through a tissue harvest but it was so disgusting and shocking to me that I had to leave. We'll see how I do this time.

More later...

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