Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentine's Day at the Morgue

Remember, I don’t force you to read this. I won’t apologize for grossing you out, if I manage to.

So, the Office of the ME in Fairfax county is way bigger than I thought it would be. They cover an area involving 2 airports and a train station, and in case of some sort of disaster, are equipped to handle 100 bodies. Impressive. We toured the facilities, checked out the coolers, radiology, and the decomp room for especially decomposing bodies - like those crawling with maggots and bugs and stuff. They have their own special room. As well they should, no one wants maggots crawling about the morgue and contaminating everything. I just never really thought about it that much.

They had 4 cases when we got there today. And in an hour and 45 minutes, they did 3 of them. Also impressive. I was kind of surprised with how roughly they treated the bodies before, during, and after autopsy. But, it makes sense. I mean, not like they’re going to feel it, right? One guy was moving them from steel slab to steel slab. He’d grab and arm and a leg and just yank them over. Worked well. It was efficient. And it also made a nice clunk when the dude’s head hit the table.

He’d also roll them up and pull the body bags out from underneath them, or roll them on their back, whatever… they had to make notations on either side of the body, where there were marks, blah blah blah. When you think of dead people, or at least when I have, you think about the rigor. You know, bodies all stiff and unmoving. We had some of that going on. But with one of the cases, the guy shot himself in the head with a shotgun last Tuesday. His autopsy was today, 6 days later. So, the rigor was all gone. Remember weekend at Bernie’s? That’s all I could think about. Except Bernie didn’t have a GSW to the head. Or did he? What did that silly guy die of anyway? Anyway, this guy’s head was all rollin’ around while he was being moved. He was like a rag doll. Like a really heavy sleeper, very moveable.

So, it was an enlightening experience. Autopsies are quick. And it was interesting to see what your last doctor’s exam will be like. Interesting things to note:

1. They wash you off with a scouring pad. You know those rectangular green ones? Yeah. That’s what was used.

2. The X-Files let me down. They didn’t weigh the intestines. They weigh like, everything but the small and large intestine. And they didn’t do stomach contents. I’m not sure if they weighed that or not. I’m thinking no. Just the spleen, kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and brain.

3. During the autopsy they throw all your organs in a big plastic bag. Some they need to cut up more to look at with more detail, depending on the case, but they all end up in this big bag - whole or mutilated, no matter. Some have samples taken from them to be sent to the lab for histological staining. At any rate, when they’re done, they put this bag back into the cavity that used to hold them all orderly… and they sew you back up, slipping the sternum and ribs back in place as they do so. (These are cut with hedge clippers.) Then they stick the skull back together and sew up your head. So, you’re buried with all your parts, but not where they belong. I’m okay with that, I guess. But the thing that bothers me is your brain is floating around in your stomach. For some reason, that’s the only part that seems wrong. This does, however raise an interesting question. Why do we ever bother to exhume people? What does that do for us? And what does the mortician think of the butcher job the M.E.‘s do? They must seriously be miracle workers.

4. Fingerprinting dead people is hard. Not the printing part, the inking part. They’re not very cooperative.

5. The morgue doesn’t smell bad. And don’t kill me for saying this… it smells like raw meat. Like steak before you throw it on the grill. Autopsies make you seriously hungry.

6. I was worried about the whole slicing of the scalp and reflecting back skin to saw open the skull to get the brain. And the stories I’ve heard about the suction sound it makes when you pop the skull open. And how lots of people don’t like it. I think people have been making up that story. When they open the skull after making the cuts with the saw, they sort of pry it open. It makes a popping sound, like a cracking - that you can imagine would be true - you’re breaking bone. And then when you pull the top off, it’s not a suction, it’s a ripping or tearing. You can hear the dura being torn from the inner aspect of the skull. It wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. And it’s so much easier to not think of them as a once living man with 2 kids at home when his forehead is pulled down to his nose.

7. There’s less blood than I thought there would be.

8. Don’t become an alcoholic. It thins your blood and doesn‘t let it clot. And don’t fall down stairs if you’re drunk. It could kill you.

9. Drowning in your own blood does not seem like a cool way to go. And sub-arachnoid bleeds look super painful.

10. Taking vitreous liquid from the eye would seriously creep a lot of people I know out. ’Cause even I was like, “Ew.”

Overall, enjoyable morning. Though, sad. I think the oldest guy was 46. 3 men. Drug overdose, alcoholic, suicide. Black, Hispanic, Caucasian.

We read the police report on one of the guys because the cop in attendance was super nice. He had a family. 2 little boys, a wife, a mother. And he still felt the need to do meth. In some ways I feel sad. In others, angry. All three of these guys didn’t have to die this week. Makes you wonder if you’re living your life the way you ought to.

But enough reflection.

I still have comps to study for.

End Blog.

No comments: