Happy Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s, I got a case where the person was stabbed in the heart. I have never gotten flowers and I didn’t get chocolate, but I think this one was appropriate.

I think I’m the only amused by it’s cosmic significance. ūüôā

Edit to add: ¬†So far the only directly holiday related deaths we’ve had have been on Valentine’s Day. ¬†Yes, people die around Christmas, etc., but it’s hard to attribute it to that specific day. ¬†Valentine’s. ¬†Jilted lovers and strong emotions. ¬†It says a lot about what we’ll kill and die for.


On call

On call tomorrow. Waiting at the bus stop after some wine with friends. See two cop cars flashing their lightson the street. Something is going down. Realize that I’m still in my jurisdiction. Fuuuuuuuuck I’m going to have to work tomorrow.

(Moments later: I also know how to recognize a needle cap. Not sitting in that seat.)

Of heads and vaginas

I realize this is the 3rd post in one day, but I have 3 months of stories already built up (and there really is at least one story a day), so bear with me.

Yesterday afternoon was slow, and Carrie brought in some cookies so we were doing what people naturally do when an afternoon is slow and there are fresh, warm cookies. ¬†We sat and talked. ¬†Nancy is an investigator that used to be a tech. ¬†Somehow the conversation leapfrogged from a case where a little toy dog had been chewing on her owner after she expired, to a story I knew about a pair of german shepards decapitating their owner, to decapitated heads. ¬†Nancy brought up the fact of how surreal a decapitated head looks. ¬†It looks fake and she said all she could think about was “Damn, this is heavy!” ¬†Which Carrie concurred. ¬†Decapitated heads are weird in person. ¬†Nancy brought up the interesting point that I hadn’t thought of, which was how the hell do you cut into it then? ¬†As a tech, it’s just standard procedure to cut open the head to look at the brain. ¬†I was thinking about what the point would even be, considering that cause of death is a wee bit obvious when you have someone that chose decapitation via train tracks as their chosen way to go, but rules are rules and I can see how some doctor would want the thing opened anyway. ¬†So I asked her what she did. ¬†Would you have someone hold it? ¬†Brace it? ¬†She couldn’t remember what she did, just the dilemma. ¬†I said I’d want a woodworking vice or something. ¬†Speaking of which, you’d be surprised at how many unconventional tools we find uses for. ¬†Restaurant supplies are a big one. ¬†Personally, I’ve been thinking about purchasing a bunch of hair ties for my station. ¬†One day, a doctor lamented that we didn’t have a belt.

Another part of the cookie conversation earlier in the day was that Nancy was asking us techs if we take out vaginas. ¬†Not at our office. ¬†Apparently some do, especially in cases of sexual assault. ¬†But we don’t, and personally I feel like cutting one out would do more harm than good when looking for evidence. ¬†And does anyone ever cut off the penis? ¬†But anywho, Nancy said she was curious if that was the norm because one day at her former office as a tech she was assisting a doc with an autopsy. ¬†This doctor was a particularly sloppy doctor and tended to make a big mess, which is irksome for techs because we do to the clean up. ¬†At this office it was also set up in a way in which the cutting boards for organs used by the pathologists were placed over the body. ¬†On this particular autopsy, Nancy turned around to clean up some of the literal shit left by the doctor. ¬†When she turned back around Sudden Vagina! being cut on the board. ¬†Nope, we don’t do that.

Medical examiner conversations are the best conversations.

No updates.

The original version of this post was eaten by WordPress. ¬†Thanks, WordPress. ¬†We’re off to a great start. ¬†Anyway, it may be shorter, but that’s probably a good thing. ¬†I was thinking in the beginning that I would need to start off with some sort of profound outline on the medical examiner system and how it works, but what prompted me to get this ball rolling was a bit of a rant.

And that rant is:  There are no updates in death investigation.  And that fucking sucks.

Just to be clear, I am not a death investigator. ¬†I am a tech, short for autopsy technician, which our county has generously bestowed the title of forensic pathology technician on us to make us sound important (which we are, but more on that in another post…). ¬†But I think it’s fair to say that it’s lame for everyone in our office that we’re given no updates on the cases that come through us.

Want to know the biggest difference between forensics on TV shows and forensics in real life? ¬†On a show, there are only about 5-6 main characters. ¬†Usually consisting of 1-2 protagonists, some sidekick characters (either cops or lab geeks like on CSI), and 1 or 2 recurring special characters. ¬†That’s a good thing considering, let’s face it, more than that and the audience will get confused and lose track of what the hell is going on. ¬†So these 5-6 characters do absolutely everything. ¬†They go on scene to collect evidence, conduct all the interviews and interrogations, put the clues together, and even make the arrests so that by the end of the hour they can tie the story up in a pretty little bow just in time for the next episode. ¬†My favorite example in this formula is Castle. ¬†We have the lead homicide detective and her co-star writer/love interest, 2 somewhat comedic detective sidekicks, and 1-2 medical examiners that go out on scenes, do the whole autopsy themselves, etc. ¬†Everything else in between is usually the domain of an amorphous “CSU” (“Let’s get CSU on it!”) that never makes a physical appearance. ¬†Not to pick on Castle by any means, it’s actually one of the better ones – at least they wear gloves!

In reality, death investigation is a massive team effort. ¬†This is especially true in a large urban area with a massively high case load, which is what I’m writing about. ¬†It consists of police, death investigators, pathologists, the technicians, crime lab, etc. ¬†There are a lot of hands in the forensic pie. ¬†And interaction between divisions is often limited to a few¬†liaisons¬†(such as homicide detectives being present for the autopsy) or exchanging paperwork with the nice ladies at evidence receiving (such as dropping off specimens at the crime lab). ¬†Death investigation and the final autopsy report can takes weeks. ¬†Prosecution? ¬†Sometimes years. ¬†Nancy (not her real name), an investigator, was telling me yesterday that she’s getting¬†subpoenas¬†for a case from over 7 years ago. ¬†To describe the process in over-simplified way, what we do is the investigators get a call that there’s a body. ¬†The investigators investigate, and then with the removers take the body back to the office, where we collect evidence and cut them open or sign them out, the pathologist signs the DC (death certificate), and we release them to the funeral home. ¬†And that’s the end of it for us. ¬†There are no updates. ¬†There is no “we caught the bad guy!” or “good job on collecting that DNA, it won the case!” ¬†And I feel that especially the investigators ought to at least get some sort of update, considering that they’re in the field. ¬†At least for the technicians it makes some sense that we’re left out because we’re stuck in our morgue cave all day every day. ¬†The only follow up we get is usually from A) a pathologist is called to court, which they usually can’t talk about and B) the news.

Hence, we watch the news. ¬†I have never been a mainstream local news person before, preferring the internet and my niche news sources. ¬†But since starting this job a few months ago, I have picked up the habit that all of my coworkers have in watching the news religiously for work. ¬†Usually I keep an eye out for homicides (because they can be more physically and mentally exhausting, so it’s always nice to have a heads up), but also for the rare update.

Which prompted this post.  This morning I opened my favorite local newspaper site and saw on the front page an article about a homicide we processed.  They arrested someone based on the DNA from under the fingernails collected by one of the other technicians.  Fuck yeah.

So no updates. ¬†But it’s nice when we get them.


There are times when I wish technology would advance enough to the point where I could just download the words from my brain as I’m thinking them. ¬†Or record my life day by day but automatically edit out the boring parts. ¬†I have a fuck ton of stories.