Saturday, January 04, 2014

Occam's Razor

Ring! Ring!

"Medical Examiner's Office, this is Polly."

"Hi, my name is Kyle.  I called earlier but I wanted to call back and talk to a different person."

Uh oh... I look over at Brutus and mouth "Kyle?"  Brutus, a large African American man in his mid-forties, gives me a wicked grin, points to the side of his head with his index finger and performs the universal sign for "that guy is nuts" by circling his ear a few times.  

Brutus has been training me in the control booth all day.  The control booth is where initial calls are taken.  These calls could be from a funeral director looking for a death certificate, a police officer or nurse reporting a death, media fishing for information, or a family member calling about a deceased loved one.

"I think you guys made a mistake.  See, my dad was in remission from stage four lung cancer.  He had high blood pressure, but he just went to the doctor a week ago and was in perfect health. There was no reason for him to die.  But when the police came out they said you guys released him to a funeral home instead of taking him in for an autopsy." Kyle says.

"Okay," I say.  "How old was your dad?"  

"He was 80-yrs-old."

"So, he had cancer and he was 80-yrs-old.  He had high blood pressure and he had a family doctor that he saw on a regular basis who was willing to sign the death certificate.  I think the reason that the investigator released the body to a funeral home was because it sounds like a natural death.  What were the circumstances?  Was there anything to make you think otherwise?"  I ask.  

"Yes!" He says.  "So, Dad's toilet was clogged.  He called the super to come fix it.  Well, when I found him today he was on the floor in the bathroom.  And there was a tissue with blood on it sitting by the bathroom sink."

I wait a second... "How much blood was on the tissue?  Was it a lot?"  


"Did the police officer examine your father's body at the scene?"  

"Yes!  That's the other weird thing!  I thought maybe Dad slipped and hit his head while trying to unclog the toilet but the police guy said there were no injuries!  That seems really suspicious to me."

I wait for a moment for him to continue but he doesn't.  I prompt, " is that suspicious?"
"Because of the blood on the tissue!  And if dad collapsed he should have injuries."

"Alright," I say. It's been a very long day taking constant calls and I'm tired.  I rub my hand over my face and try to be patient.  "Maybe your dad had a bloody nose earlier in the day.  You said he had lung cancer...maybe he coughed up some blood."

"But don't you think it's suspicious that he had no injuries?  The EMT's and the police found no blood anywhere on him!"

I am honestly perplexed at what this guy is trying to get at and say, "Well, I don't think that's suspicious at all.  If the EMT's and the police found no blood and no injuries than that means your father's death was based on natural causes.  So, what is your concern again?"

"The tissue!  If that wasn't my father's blood then it must be somebody else's!  He may have been murdered!"

"Wait...what?  Who would have done that?"

"The super! My dad had called him to come fix the toilet earlier in the day, remember?"

"Was there bad blood between your dad and the super?"

"Not that I know of." 

"And didn't you just say the police and EMT's found no injuries?"


"Look," I take a different tack, "I think I understand where you're coming from.  You want to know exactly what happened to your dad.  But your father was 80-years-old.  Bodies wear out over time.  And, on top of that, he had a lot of health issues.  Which do you think is more likely, somebody entered your dad's apartment and somehow managed to kill him without leaving any evidence on the body...oh, and making the sloppy mistake of leaving a bloody tissue..with his own blood on it, no the scene?  Or is it just that your dad finally succumbed?" I let that sink in for a second.  "Bringing him in for autopsy just isn't necessary in this situation.  And anyway, a bloody tissue with the super's DNA on it doesn't mean anything except the super bled onto a tissue and that tissue was in your father's bathroom.  He might have cut his finger while fixing the toilet or something."

"So what you're saying is it's okay for him to be murdered if he's old?" he blurts. "I bet you'd handle the situation totally differently if he was 16-yrs-old and he was found dead on the bathroom floor and there was a bloody tissue on the sink.  I bet it would be a big deal and you'd take that tissue and do DNA testing on it to rule out a homicide!"  

He says this accusingly and I lean forward in my chair and talk into the phone quietly because my buddy Kyle here has just danced all over my last nerve.  "Yes!  You bet I would!  Because 16-yr-old bodies don't just stop working.  That would be like driving a brand new car off the lot and then having it break down on the side of the road on your way home.  But the body of an 80-yr-old is like an old beater with a couple hundred thousand miles on it.  You might be running along fine but if you suddenly break down it isn't entirely surprising because your parts are all worn out.  We just... break down over time."

Kyle keeps talking and the phone keeps ringing and I know no matter what I say, Kyle will remain firmly convinced that his father met with foul play.  And I've taken two similar calls since starting this job.

I did tell him that if he was really concerned he should contact law enforcement.  And if law enforcement dismisses him, hire an attorney, a private investigator, and have a private autopsy performed on his father.

Later, Brutus, who has worked here for 20 years says, "The problem with the people in Big City is they've been watching too much CSI and crap. We never got calls like this back when I started. Now everybody thinks they're freakin' Dr. G."

I don't know about that, but I do think that the simplest explanation is usually...not always, but usually...the correct one.


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