So, I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. It turns out podcasts take up a lot of time, but a new adventure in mortality is almost complete. Stay tuned! But in the mean-time- here is the latest podcast episode-
So, here it is- Chris’s story.
So… I’ve heard that people have had a rough time with anchor cutting off the podcast episodes after only a couple of minutes.
Has anyone had that issue?
Well- just so you know, it’s available on Google Podcasts
Or Apple Podcasts
I’m sorry, I have no idea how to link those
Anyway, my point is- if you want to listen, you can find it all over the place…
and you SHOULD listen… I mean I like that people sometimes enjoy the stuff I write, but the fact is- writing essays can get kind of tedious for me when I’ve spent an entire shift cranking out case files.
SO- my own stories will continue to come suffering down the line. But in the meantime- listen to a survival story or two.
this story isn’t new to you guys, but it is likely the first time you’ve heard me read one of these stories first-hand. If you would like to hear me read “The One That Got Away” to a live audience- you can check it out here:
Otherwise- congrats to us all for surviving another week of the apocalypse!
I’m not sure what to say.
The world is sick and America is burning- burning like a greasy dumpster behind a KFC… that’s been stuffed with explosives…and kindling.
How was everyone else’s week?
It’s a technicolor disaster… a high-def detonation. It’s a mortar gone off so close to my head that there’s blood dripping from my ears and I’m staggering around in the settling dust, wondering which way to start running. I mean, I’d go see my therapist but, get this, she’s black. And let’s be completely honest, paying a black woman to help me process my feelings about the civil unrest in America right now kind of feels like the biggest privileged-asshole move I can pull- ever.
Because here’s the thing, I find myself on the “wrong side of the battle lines on this one. Not only do I work alongside the police every single fucking day of my life, I also sleep next to one every single fucking night of my life.
Yes, you read that right. And maybe that fact is a little TMI, but it seems to me like your heart on your sleeve is the accessory of choice in the year 2020. Let it all hang out, kids. Scrawl it on the side of a building in spray paint. Put it in a bottle and throw it at someone. Anything goes.
The experience is something like that awful nightmare. You know the one, we all have it. You’re trying to scream and the breath just evaporates into a whimper when you open your mouth. You can feel your ribcage squeezing your lungs like handfuls of jello as you try and try and try to make a sound. But all that comes out is a single, wheezed syllable, “no” or maybe “stop“
If I could say anything, I think that would be it: “no…stop…“
But I’m not sure who I’d be saying it to. Besides, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t listen anyway. No one seems to be listening right now. To anyone.
My friends are all posting pictures of themselves holding signs over their heads that say “ALL COPS ARE BAD COPS!”. Or they’re making blanket proclamations that if someone doesn’t echo their narrative, then that person has clearly chosen the side of the oppressor and should be silenced, unfriended and ostracized.
So, I haven’t said much. I’m frozen in panic, watching as my liberal community of friends unanimously votes the love of my life off the proverbial island. And I suppose they’re voting me off too. I’m a collaborator after all. I’m in collusion with the enemy. I’m cahoot-ing with him every night. It doesn’t matter if he’s the kindest, funniest, most emotionally evolved, honest, compassionate, earnest dude I’ve ever met. He still straps on a gun and a badge everyday. And the worst words I can add to this conversation are, “Hey, not all cops…”
It’s awful. From every angle it’s awful and I’m not going to pretend it isn’t. I’m also not going to to kidnap the story and say it’s about my pain. Nor am I going to defend excessive force on the part of the police. My goodwill toward them is not so all encompassing that I believe they can do no wrong. If anything, my relationship with the police means I know them better than anyone. And therefore I know how fucked up their behavior can be. After 5 years as a paramedic and almost 12 as a deputy medical examiner I’ve seen some of them at their worst. I’ve seen things in the middle of the night when no bystanders lurk nearby with cell-phones recording every move. I’m there when we’re all exhausted and pissed off with the endlessness of our work. And sometimes, it’s truly stomach-turning. Sometimes, we’re bad people. Myself included.
But you already know that.
So I’m going to tell you a story you don’t know.
The way I see it, before everyone decides I’m a fascist and unfollows me, before the thronging hoards beat at our door with tar and feathers in hand, crying out for Mike’s head… I’m going to tell you about the day we met.
I’m going to tell you a love story.
I was working.
No surprise, I’m always working.
Specifically, I was working the second day of a two day shift. It was mid-morning and I was already miserable and exhausted. The day kicked off with a shot-gun-to-the-head suicide that tore me from sleep like a screaming drill sergeant. I had staggered off to that grotesque scene, dragging my wits behind me like the fraying hems of my work pants. And, while finishing up the investigation, my pager shrieked out it’s ear-splitting alert. I had another death- this time a motorcycle accident on the other side of the county. I extricated myself from the teary, imploring grip of the suicide victim’s wife and stumbled back to my truck when another page heralded yet another death. This one was a fatal overdose, located roughly midway between my location and the motorcycle accident.
Grumbling every incarnation of “fuck” under my breath, I called back the deputy at the motorcycle crash, telling him that he would have to wait while I tackled this overdose first. He sounded downright chipper, “No problem! See you when you get here!” It was probably the first sunny day of the year. Doubtless, sitting in a rural field with a sandwich was a beautiful relief for him compared to the usual inane cop-bullshit he handled. I sighed and turned my wheels onward toward the overdose, where a decomposing dead girl, a roomful of dirty detectives and fate were all waiting for me.
Pulling up to the scene, the first thing I noticed was a middle-aged couple, laying facedown on the front lawn of the house and writhing with distress. The woman’s jagged howls rose and fell like a ship on a stormy ocean. The man held her, rocking back and forth, pleading for her to calm down. I side-stepped the couple, making for the front door. “Those are the parents,” said the patrol officer standing on the front step. “Sounds like she didn’t respond to calls or texts for about a week and a half, so they decided to come here and check on her. They found her… like that.”
I didn’t have to ask like what. I could already tell. The scent of decomposition was worming its way out the decedent’s bedroom and toward the front door as I approached. I cringed. It’s bad finding a loved one dead. But finding a loved one decomposing leaves a dent on your psyche that no amount of therapy can buff out.
After burning most of my bandwidth of the suicide victim’s wife, I would have to dig deep for this one. Contrary to what deputy medical examiners present to the public, our wells of empathy do run dry. No one can endlessly exist in a state of sympathetic benevolence. I recognized this woman’s death was a life-ending event for her parents. But for me it was only my second out of three tragic deaths that morning. Somehow, I had to convey the appropriate emotional involvement to these devastated people, while still hurrying the fuck up to get to the motorcycle crash 20 miles away. And I figured telling them their daughter’s death was merely a 3 out of 10 on my salty, overworked trauma scale, probably wasn’t the most compassionate approach.
God, I was tired. Not so much sleepy-tired, but more bone-weary, fatigue. I was impatient-tired, annoyed and defeated under the weight of all the paperwork and inane tasks already crowding my day. I grit my teeth as I stomped through the carpeted entryway and glanced around the living room of the woman’s house. A few patrol officers and drug-detectives crowded the small space, milling around and sifting through our decedent’s belongings. Unreasonable frustration sizzled up my throat and gathered like a crackling storm cloud in my head. There was no organization, no leadership. Clearly, no one had done jack-shit because they were all waiting for me to get there and make sense of it all. They should have done some work. They should have pulled something together. Why do I have to handle every little goddamnned THING? I seethed. I drew a breath and barked, “WHO THE FUCK IS IN CHARGE OF THIS SHIT-SHOW?”
“I am,” came a male voice behind me.
I turned, poised to unleash a wrathful lightening-storm on whoever was stupid enough to claim ownership of this professional insult I was suffering.
-And my ire evaporated. The incinerating rage burning in my frontal lobe extinguished like someone had smothered it with a wet blanket-
– a sexy, sexy, wet blanket.
-or some other such floundering inanity stumbled out of my mouth. And the realization slapped me, I hadn’t showered in at least 38 hours. I hadn’t worn anything resembling make-up or perfume in at least 5 years. My hair was flat, my clothes were rumpled and flecked with blood spatter. I had pretty much just mother-fucked every officer at the scene and the odor of decomposition simmered around us. All the same, beams of sunlight broke through my morose, overworked funk. Choirs of angels sang as the overcast sky split into a glorious, luminescent dawn-
-And I was going to get this dude’s number if I had to beat it out of him with the dead woman’s leg.
I haven’t asked the witnesses, but I imagine I underwent probably the most dramatic before-and-after transformation since Bruce Jenner became Caitlynn. I was A GIRL!
He was tall, easily over 6′. He had a broad chest, biceps that bulged out of his short-sleeved uniform, a firm jawline and the slightest hint of dimples at the corners of his mouth. But, above all, he had the most impossible green eyes I had ever seen. The kind of eyes that steal your breath and leave you blank… trying to remember that there’s a dead body in the next room and her family is freaking the fuck out on the front lawn.
I gaped, likely working my mouth like a suffocating goldfish.
“Body’s in here,” he said, motioning for me to follow him into the bedroom-
oooooooooohhhhh…. the BEDROOM…..
-where our decedent lay, oozing into the mattress where she met her end. I shook my brain loose and began working. But I was a new creation. I was effervescent and charming, giggling and smiling and batting my eyelashes. I cracked jokes, I teased- and I watched Officer Sexy-Pants for signs of interest, even as I performed the perfunctory ring-check to see if he advertised his taken/not-taken status.
He wasn’t wearing a ring, but I knew that didn’t mean anything. Lots of cops forgo weddings rings on shift. And even if he wasn’t married, he could still be in a committed relationship. Hell, he might even be gay. How could I know? I worked my scheming mind like a blacksmith’s bellows as I went about the investigation, wondering how to unearth the goods. Was he single or not? Was he single or not? Was he single or not?
It wasn’t until I was perched on the mattress, straddling the putrefied body of our decedent when the stroke of genius overcame me. I glanced up at the officers gathered in the doorway of the bedroom as I grabbed the woman’s limp arm and heaved her over so I could examine her back. Undeterred by the looks of abject disgust on everyone’s face, I set my plan into action: “HARD TO BELIEVE I’M SINGLE, RIGHT,” I bellowed at the horrified assembly.
The officers and detectives stared blankly at me, not quite registering that I was talking about dating at a time like this. But I was on a motherfucking mission and was not about to be deterred by anything so paltry as “tact” or “appropriateness” So I wound up and took another swing: “Hahahaha, yeah. On my dating profile, when they asked me to share an anecdote about myself, I told them, ‘technically, I’ve dismembered more people than Jack the Ripper!’ Hahahaha!”
A couple of the officers shifted on their feet and tittered nervously as they angled back out the bedroom door. The others either didn’t hear me or had decided to ignore the comment and in rapid order I was alone with the corpse. “Goddamnnit” I sighed and jumped off the bed, following them back into the living room where detectives had found an array of pills and powders arranged on the coffee table. Some of these had clearly been cut into lines and snorted off a dinner plate. The detectives discussed toxicology and autopsies while I listened with half and ear and watched Officer Adonis walk out the front door to retrieve a field test kit. I kicked myself repeatedly for my clumsy, half-cocked attempts at flirting and figured the whole scene was a wash as I followed suit and went out to talk to the parents. They were ravaged to the point of numb acceptance by the time I got to them. I described what they could expect and what was going to happen with their daughter’s body as they stared through me with empty eyes, nodding mechanically. I wanted to say something more- something meaningful or comforting. Anything at all that might relieve their suffering, but they were so far beyond the reach of my words all I could do was hand them a card and back away. Drifting back to my work-truck to go tackle the motorcycle wreck across town, I paused to say my farewells to the law enforcement officers and take one last look at what was probably the highlight of my day…
You see, because the thing is, I was tired. I know I already said that, but it went beyond current circumstance. I don’t just mean I was tired of death and work and blood and trauma. I wasn’t just tired that morning. I was tired of life, tired of loss, tired of people, tired of dating. Literally a week before this shift I had more or less ended the music with the last dude I attempted to date. It was a decision I didn’t make lightly and I was still agonizing over the possible mistake. His name was Nate and he was fine. He was great, even. He was friendly and mellow, even-keeled and quiet. He had a stable job as a dental assistant and got along with his family. He didn’t display anything resembling a temper and always paid for dinner unless I insisted on doing so myself. Unlike anyone else I had dated in the past 10 years, Nate was not a psychopath. He wasn’t sinking below some quagmire of PTSD. He didn’t have maniacal exes or a substance abuse problem. He wasn’t addicted to video games. His record was cleaner than a model home: no assault charges, no DUIs, no possession with intent to sell. He didn’t even have any tattoos or ride a motorcycle-
-And I was decidedly NOT in love with him.
This, latest defunct relationship had me seriously wondering if I was officially ruined. What was wrong with me that a suitable suitor had left me bereft of excited tingles. Nate was… good… adequate… preferred. Solid as a pylon. But I struggled to work up anything resembling giddy enthusiasm. I liked him a lot. And given my track record, he seemed like a really safe bet. But I felt a hollowness that I was beginning to suspect could only be filled with chaos, drama and … assholes. Ultimately, I was describing this fear to a friend of mine when she gave me the girlfriend bitch-slap that I needed. I was telling her that I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. I was broken. I was shallow. I was a glutton for punishment. But Alexis, bless her heart, denominated the whole mess down to a single statement: “Grace,” she said with her characteristic, no-bullshit gravity. “If it’s not a ‘fuck yes‘ then it’s a ‘no.'”
I broke up with Nate the next day.
He wasn’t a ‘fuck yes’ and I was killing myself trying to turn him into one.
Now, here I was, making an ass of myself on the scene of a drug overdose because something about Officer Fuck-Yes had lit up my brainstem like a goddamnned Tesla coil.
I was just about to take my leave of my latest embarrassment when he piped up, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Every now and then when I’m on a dating app and I see someone’s profile picture is just a photo of a flower or something… I swipe right just to roll the dice and see what her deal is-“
He had a dating profile. Like, he was talking about using it in the present tense and everything! I stopped dead in my tracks and smiled.
“Oh my God, right? People’s photos are crazy. Like, I see some guys’ photos of themselves in sunglasses with a baseball cap on, taken from 50 yards away and all I can do is wonder what he’s hiding. And I don’t know what makes dudes post pictures of themselves looking downward at their phone. Don’t they know that angle gives them 3 chins and their nose hair is their most prominent feature?”
He laughed and the next thing I knew we were commiserating over the woes of “app-dating” Nevermind the fact that there was a fatal motorcycle crash mucking up the county until I got there and dealt with it. The roads could stay closed as far as I was concerned, I was having a moment.
Or rather I was having a moment right up until all of the officers suddenly went silent. I had been mid-joke with Mike when something happened over the radio that dropped a cinder block on the whole scene. I didn’t hear it myself since all of them were wearing ear-mics, but I watched their faces change and a heaviness fell. Apparently, while I had been blithely wasting time at the scene of this overdose, flirting with Mike and hoping I was making a lasting impression, one of the officers who was blocking off the scene of the motorcycle accident got hit by a car.
Officer Fred Warren had been in his cruiser, closing off the rural highway and waiting for the idiot medical examiner to arrive and clear the motorcycle accident. He had just been relieved and was leaving to get lunch as another officer took over when a distracted driver slammed into Fred in his squad-car, trapping him and essentially snapping his leg in two. The officers around me had gone silent, listening to Fred gasp and groan and howl in pain, even as he attempted to raise dispatch on the radio and get himself an ambulance.
Quick as a wink, all the officers- including Mike- disappeared into their squad cars to render aid to poor, squashed Fred. And I was left there, with the horrified realization that it was MY FAULT.
If I hadn’t been intentionally lallygagging around at the scene of this overdose… I could barely bring myself to think it. Fred was the cream center of a smashed Oreo and I let it happen because I wanted to flirt with a cop.
The guilt washed over me as I scurried back to my truck to haul ass over to the motorcycle accident. I was such a dick. And perhaps even more of a dick because, much like the distracted driver who had slammed into Fred, I was now driving with my phone in my hand and hurriedly doing some Facebook recon on Mike. Within the 20 minutes it took me to get to the motorcycle accident I knew that Mike had two young sons, a gray truck and 6 months earlier he had gone to some kind of formal police banquet thing with some bitch in a blue dress (the girl, not Mike) who I officially hated. Nothing recent regarding girlfriends or relationships. Fuck it! I said to myself and punched the “friend request” button with my thumb. It’s fine, I told myself. I’m friends with lots of officers. It doesn’t mean anything. We just had a nice time talking. It’s fine.
To hear Mike tell the story. He had absolutely no idea that I was flirting with him and he only vaguely registered that “the medical examiner had a nice ass” at the scene. Right up to the moment he got my friend request, he was utterly unaware that anything was going on. He and one of the other officers who had been at the overdose were in the middle of getting lunch when his phone dinged with my request and Mike had pulled it out, gazed at in in confusion and then showed it to his co-worker. “That’s weird,” he reportedly said. “the medical examiner just sent me a friend request.”
His coworker, who was clearly more observant than Mike, said something to the tune of: “Are you oblivious or just stupid?”
Mike was measuring how best to respond in the affirmative to being both oblivious and stupid when his co-worker went on.
“You guys were having a moment,” he told him.
“We were?” Mike gaped. “Oh shit… should I ask her out?”
-which earned Mike an eye-roll from his co-worker
The rest, as they say, is history- a slightly mortifying history in which I have to admit that I let Officer Fred Warren get hit by a car so I could get a date. It’s okay, though. Fred is on paid medical leave and rumor has it he actually began walking last week. And as much as people told me I wasn’t responsible for Fred getting hit by a texting driver, I still maintain that I played a part in his accident. But I made it up to him. I sent him a card with a certificate in it that officially gets him out of helping the medical examiner move any dead body of his choice… you know… in the event that he ever makes it back to patrol.
I guess if I could leave you with anything, dear reader, I hope that you’ll remember that cops are people- most of them are good people (but I’ve got the best one) Also, it’s worth waiting for the person who turns your world from black and white to technicolor. As Alexis so adeptly summed it up, “If it’s not a ‘fuck yes‘ then it’s a ‘no’.
Oh yeah, and don’t text and drive.
This has been a public service announcement.
You probably already knew this, but love makes you stupid. Especially when you’re feeling it for the first time-at the age of 35.
Confused? Yeah, so was Megz when her girlfriend tried to kill her. Hear all about it on this week’s podcast episode, Megz Story.
I swear I’ll get back to writing my own material this week. It’s just with all the crazy shit going on in the world today, I have been finding it difficult to do anything other than watch reruns of Ru Paul’s Drag Race:
In the meantime, here’s the link to the podcast episode.
I did it. I finally got my first podcast up. But for those of you who are hoping for a fucked up story about someone dying…
The podcast is all about fucked up stories of people LIVING!
That’s right. In an effort to combat the crippling depression, anxiety and ennui resulting from my incredibly traumatizing job- I’m producing a podcast of survival stories. I spend all my time listening to stories of why people are dead- I wanna hear why they’re alive.
But, don’t worry. I’ll still craft dark and morbid tales of depraved deaths for you here on the blog. But if you find yourself a little too depressed, feel free to give this a listen.
First episode is up and available on Anchor and Stitcher and Spotify and PocketCasts. (I think… sorry I’m still trying to figure this shit out. I’m old and technology is strange and frightening.
If you like it, tell your friends… if you hate it… tell your enemies.
What end-of-the-world week are we on anyway?
It doesn’t matter, I suppose. The runaway car is picking up speed and we’re rolling downhill… right into the inevitable crashing waves of an incoming tide. Maybe we could have prevented it, but prevention would have required the human race to be something other than what it is. I mean, let’s face it, we’re kind of a horror movie: all formulaic and predictable as we wander around in the dark with a beer in one hand and our tits hanging out… “Hello? Is someone there?”
We’re kind of designed for self-destruction. Like cells that are genetically programmed to detonate after a specific interval. It’s called apoptosis and I’m not terribly upset about it. It happened to the dinosaurs, it happened to the neanderthals and I’m starting to think it’s our turn. It’s fine. I mean, we’re just the latest ass-hole species to claw our way to the top of the heap before being toppled off when the universe has decided our number is up. I mean, no offense, but I think we were on thin ice when we crucified Jesus Christ. But we really forced the universe’s hand with institutionalized slavery and disco.
Cool. Whatever. To be honest, I’m fascinated to see how all of this plays out. I’ve got a front row ticket for the apocalypse and with every gruesome news report, I have to remind myself: who wants to watch a movie without getting to see the ending?
Ok, so maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. But every time I deal with the fire department, I can’t shake the sense that the end has GOT to be extremely fucking nigh if these cock-clowns are really what we’re calling “heroes” these days.
Yeah, once again, I was baffled by the behaviors of the local firemen. This time around, it was me and one lone deputy at the scene of a motel suicide. Our dead guy had overdosed on his pain medication roughly 4 days before and he was, admittedly, getting a little… bloatey. Of course it was hard to say how bloatey because his walking-around weight was somewhere between 300 and 350lbs. He bought the farm in a second-floor room at a dingy little inn with no elevator. The deputy and I had called the local fire-crew for a lift assist and when they still hadn’t arrived 40 minutes later, the officer and I started getting a little… anxious.
“Jeez, I know their station is, literally, around the block,” the deputy said as we watched out the window for our aid’s arrival. “If it weren’t for those trees over there, we’d probably be able to see it. They were here earlier when the motel staff first called 911. It’s not like they don’t know the way.”
“Really? They were here?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he nodded. “They showed up in all of their protective equipment even though they never even went inside.”
The deputy shook his head emphatically. “They all stood in the parking lot and made the ambulance crew go in and pronounce the guy. I mean, they put on all that shit just to get out of their truck and then get back in again.”
“Jesus,” I said. “that seems like kind of a waste, all things considered…”
As though in response to our musings, my pager went off at that moment, bidding me to contact the fire crew’s battalion chief.
I did my best to sound cordial when I called him: “Hi, this is the medical examiner, I’m returning a page?”
“Hello, this is battalion chief Dawson, I just wanted to talk to you abut this lift assist…”
“Yeah, we’ve been waiting for over half an hour. Is something wrong?”
“Well…” he hesitated slightly before regaining his BATTALION CHIEF voice and charging forward with the bad news. “I was wondering if you have any other options for getting him out of there.”
I glanced at the massive, seeping, inert from on the hotel bed… and then at the deputy who was definitely not going to be winning any Mr. Universe competitions. “What do you mean?”
“Well, from what I understand… this body is a decomp.”
“Yeah,” I was confused. “So?”
“Well, I just don’t want to subject my crew to that…”
“Subject your crew to what?”
“I don’t want my crew to have to deal with that…”
“Hey,” I called over to the deputy. “Tell dispatch we’re canceling fire. They’re not going to help us.” The officer looked askance at me, but I just shook my head. He was calling for more deputies as I told the BATTALION CHIEF I would call him back to discuss this later. Within 90 seconds, five more deputies had rolled into the motel parking lot and they were uncomplainingly gloving-up to boldly go where no (fire)man has gone before. The irony being that the fire-crew actually sheepishly rolled up in their truck just as my squad of ultimate bad-asses was heaving the dead body into my truck. The officers glared their withering contempt at the fireman as they got back into their cruisers to return to their posts. Meanwhile, I approcahed this fire truck to ask the fire crew what, exactly, was the deal with them bitching out on helping lift a dead body.
Of course, as I approached, I couldn’t help but notice the fire crew was, again, completely done up in their PPE when they hadn’t even gotten out of their truck. Gloves, surgical gowns, masks, eye-protection… all of which would now get thrown out without ever having been actually used. I told them the sheriff’s office had already dealt with the issue and I would direct discussion at their battalion chief… who I called back a few minutes later.
He, again, asserted that he “didn’t want to expose his crew to THAT call.” Inspiring even more confusion in me. In ten years, I’d never had a fire crew just flat-out refuse to do… you know… their JOB.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the BC. “I don’t understand… Is this a coronavirus issue? Like, is this an infectious concern?”
“No…” he stuttered. “It was a decomp…”
“Ok, well… is the problem contamination? Like they’re concerned about getting decomp on their turn-out gear or something?”
“No, we have protective gear for that.”
“Ok,” I said, giving up. “Would you explain it to me then? Because I think I’m missing something here.”
“Well. I don’t want to subject my crew to a decomp, it would be really hard for them…”
“I don’t want to subject my crew…”
“Yeah, I got that part.” I groped for the inconceivable reality of what he was saying. “Are you telling me that it would be too emotionally and psychologically damaging for your crew to help move a decomposing body?”
I made him repeat it a couple more times because I was so incredulous that I wasn’t sure I was hearing him right. But the message was clear. Decomposing bodies are too unsettling for the fire department’s delicate sensibilities. Therefore the nation’s brave, self-sacrificing champions would not be responding to any calls that sounded too icky. I was tempted to ask if the fire department was going to refuse to respond to other potentially upsetting calls… You know, like car accidents or house-fires. But I didn’t want to hurt the BATTALION CHIEF’S tender feelings. I can only hope that sitting around the firehouse, playing x-box and accepting plates of cookies from bored housewives doesn’t prove to be too mentally strenuous for them.
I also didn’t bother to point out that his crew had, in the midst of a national shortage, burned through two rounds of personal protective equipment without ever even entering the motel where out decedent was found… Namely because I didn’t want to be blamed in case this little fact proved to be too much and he had a nervous breakdown.
Anyway…we, the essential workers of public health, carry on. I actually had to do my first COVID swab on a dead guy the other day. He had been deceased for about a week… and it wasn’t until day six post-mortem that his family decided to start making noises about the coronavirus. I had been at the scene with them a week earlier and no one had said anything about him being ill. All they wanted to talk about was his CHF, his heart disease, his schizophrenia and his methamphetamine use. But now, all of a sudden, the family claimed he had been coughing like a dying car and running a fever of 101.
Why no one mentioned any of these symptoms on the day he died was a mystery. But the story was compelling enough to convince the pathologist. So, I was bid go to the funeral home to collect all the appropriate bodily fluids… Which left me with the painful realization that I had absolutely no idea how to perform this task. Oh sure, emails had come about policies and procedures regarding COVID swabs. And those emails had been followed by more emails about new policies and procedures… which were swiftly replaced by updated policies and procedures. And rather than spend hours trying to chase down the most accurate email, I asked Henry if he knew how to take a COVID swab. he told me he’d given up fifteen emails ago.
The pathologist was a little more help, but only a little.
“Just put the swab in their nose and drive it straight back, not up. Then twist as you pull it out. Put them in the plastic container and send them to the lab. It’s super easy.”
“Okay…” I mumbled as he hung up, realizing no one had said anything about whether or not the swabs had to be refrigerated either before or after I’d jammed them in this guy’s nose. There also hadn’t been any discussion about the effectiveness of the test on a body that’s been dead for a week. but I figured these issues were beyond my pay-grade. I had been told to do the swabs and send them in, so that’s what I was going to do.
When I arrived at the funeral home, I was whisked out of the view of an active funeral and escorted to the cooler where my decedent was presented to me looking much like he had on the day he was found collapsed on his living room floor. I was relieved to see the funeral home had done a bang-up job of refrigerating him because I was honestly concerned that, at a week post-mortem, when I stuck the swabs in his nose they might come out the back of his head.
“So… you just stick them in his nose?” The funeral home employee looked doubtful. “How do you know how far to go?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted. “Until it stops?”
She wrinkled her nose and I pulled the testing swabs out of the little bio-hazard bag I’d been given. Both were a good ten inches long and made out of plastic. One was as thick as a q-tip while the other was a thin, flexible, graceful wand about half as wide as a toothpick. The funeral home girl was watching intently so I shrugged and went for the bigger one first. Driving the swab directly back, I pushed the swab into the decedent’s nose and kept going until I must have hit his spine… because I’m convinced I buried at least 8 inches of that thing in the guy’s sinuses. Twisting as I withdrew, the swab emerged with a wet sluuuuuurp.
Involuntarily, both the funeral director and I shuddered and squealed with disgust as we watched a drop of ubiquitous fluid slip off the end of the swab and plop on the dead guy’s cheek. I shoved the swab into the test-tube, broke off the end and quizzically regarded the thinner, gracile swab. “I wonder what I’m supposed to do with this one.” I said aloud. The funeral director shrugged and for lack of anything better to do, I shoved the second swab in the guy’s other nostril and called the whole venture a success… even though I’m pretty sure the second swab emerged with a couple of maggot eggs on it that had been deposited by opportunistic flies I’d noted in his apartment on the date of his death.
After leaving the funeral home, I proceeded to have one of the craziest shifts in recent memory. It would appear a nasty strain of Fentanyl-laced pills has hit the illegal market, likely masquerading as Xanax or Oxycodone. I ended up going to five suspected overdoses after my swabbing adventure. I was so busy, the COVID test sat on the center console of our truck for approximately 8 hours before I managed to get home and toss the swabs in the refrigerator. I had no idea if they needed to be refrigerated but I figured it couldn’t hurt. I hid them behind the ranch dressing and siracha in the hopes that my boyfriend wouldn’t see them and kick me out of the house.
The following morning, I wearily surrendered the swabs to a public health nurse. She informed me, as she packed the swabs in a cooler for transport to the testing lab, that they are supposed to be refrigerated as quickly as possible after samples are collected. I confessed that the swabs had sat in the truck, forlorn and forgotten, for over half the day before I was anywhere near a refrigerator. She shrugged. “I’m sure it’s fine…” she said. Then she told me that only the thin wand-like swab was meant for the nose. The thicker, monster swab was meant for oral testing… but it was probably okay since the guy was dead and didn’t feel it. Furthermore, as we were filling out paperwork, she mentioned that the COVID tests are not really recommended on bodies that had been dead for more than 3 days.
“Well, shit,” I said. “This guy had been dead for a goddamned week before his family even told us he had symptoms…”
She stared at me for a long moment, then shrugged and briskly snapped the cooler shut. “Well,” she sighed. “We do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
24 hours later, the dead guy’s test came back negative… which meant almost nothing at all, all things considered. And I’m more or less horrified that we burned a test on such an utterly pointless exercise.
People ask me stuff, they ask about working on the “front lines” and being “an essential employee.” People are asking me about testing- how the infections is being tracked, how cases are being counted and so on… all I can do is look at them and then start humming circus music… because that’s what this is, a goddamned circus. When it isn’t a horror movie, this is a comedy of errors, careening toward oblivion at 100 miles per hour- which, interestingly, is the average speed of a human sneeze.
In the immortal words of Mel Brooks comedic masterpiece, Spaceballs:
“Oh shit… there goes the planet.”
But in case you didn’t notice… I DID, in fact, say something about a boyfriend back there. Which may be why I’m feeling kind of optimistic about the end of the world. Stay tuned. That story is a good one… with no fire-fighters at all.
So much for the plan of blogging every day of this international filet-o-fuck known as the COVID-19 pandemic. I’d like to say that I’ve spent the time valiantly cruising from one death scene to the next, staring intently into the deceased patient’s face and shaking my head as I say something terribly poignant like: “It’s claimed another soul! Damn this disease! We must prevail! We must stand fast in the face of such adversity! The burden of civilization falls to us!”
You know, something like Dustin Hoffman from “Outbreak”
But let’s be honest. I’ve been playing “Fishdom” on my phone, eating leftover Easter candy and showering roughly every 9 days. I don’t know how everyone else’s pandemic is turning out, but mine is looking less like “Outbreak” and more like “Groundhog Day”.
Seriously, the days are seeping together like stains- a mess that just gets weirder and weirder. And it all has this vague, parasomnia-quality. Like, I keep expecting all of us to wake up from this sweaty, fevered hallucination. We’ll all glance around us as we rub the goop from our eyes and say, “Woah, I had the strangest dream… and YOU were there… and YOU were there… except we only spoke over FaceTime and Zoom and The Great and Powerful OZ looked remarkably like a stale Cheeto.”
Until then, there are clever memes about toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Everyone is making jokes about the sad state of their personal hygiene. Most of my friends are leading at-home work-outs in their living room or posting videos of themselves playing the guitar and asking for cyber tips via Venmo. Every small business that has ever gotten my email address has come around, passing the virtual bucket in the name of preserving mom-and-pop culture. And I’m just now noticing that my toenails look like something you’d see on a 3000 year old mummy.
It’s almost funny.
Except it’s not. Like so many other things in life- and death- the thin gloss of humor really doesn’t do much to obscure how truly fucking disturbing all of this is. But not because of the disease, rather the way everyone has reacted to it.
First of all, I’d like to say that I haven’t seen a single COVID death. Not one. I know everyone thought there would be bodies, littering the streets like it was the fucking dark ages or Mardi Gras or something. But that’s not the case. At least not in my town. Although my jurisdiction has a known body count of 55, I haven’t laid eyes on a one of them.
But that’s not to say that COVID hasn’t considerably complicated my job.
First of all, there’s the fire department… there’s always the fire department.
They continue to utterly baffle all of us with their inexplicable logic and propensity to do whatever they fuck they want.
For starters, they are constantly diagnosing dead people with COVID-19. They arrive at the scene of a death, and although they have been told that their job in this environment is to simply pronounce the person dead, that doesn’t stop them from popping off their uninformed theories like fire-crackers and then leaving everyone else to deal with the aftermath of their behavior. The concept of object permanence is a complete mystery- they just can’t seem to grasp that everyone else continues to exist despite their departure. And they can’t fathom the possibility that they’ve done anything wrong or that they’ve left a mess that someone else has to clean up. American Society has been thoroughly trained into believing everything that the fire department says, and that belief is so entrenched in our culture that the firemen, themselves, believe it too. And never is this more apparent than when one of our local heroes proclaims that a deceased person clearly died of the coronavirus (when they didn’t). The medical examiner’s office starts getting calls from the deceased’s terrified family members who are all suddenly certain of their own impending demise. Then we get calls from panicky funeral directors whose employees are refusing to touch the body. Then the family calls back saying that the funeral home won’t let any of them come to view the body for fear of infection or transmission. Then the whole neighborhood starts calling because they saw the fire-department suit up like they were going to the goddamned moon to enter the dead person’s house… then the fire department came back out again, saying the death was due to the virus. A single offhanded comment can, literally, create hours of completely unnecessary work for the on-duty medical examiner: soothing and explaining and requesting and persuading- all in an effort to convince the public that even though the fire department “said so”. The stiff in question was not exhibiting COVID symptoms, nor were they at any significant risk for infection.
Of course that’s just one angle. There’s another problem with supply and demand- yet another issue of which the fire department is completely ignorant. You may have heard there’s a PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage: Not enough masks, not enough gloves, not enough ANYTHING. The concept of “not enough” is utterly foreign to the FD because they are, historically, so well funded that they’ve never had to go without ANYTHING. Well, the other day I was on the phone with a police officer who casually informed me that the fire department had rolled up on the scene of the death and started passing out surgical masks to EVERYONE there- I mean the decedent’s family, the neighbors, the people out walking their dogs…
Now, let’s remember that right now- there is a NATIONAL SHORTAGE. I have some friends who are Emergency Room doctors. They are being issued one mask per DAY. And here we have the good-ol’ FD showering people with PPE like it’s fucking confetti at a 4th of July parade. Then, the same day, I had a fireman at a scene ask me to re-supply him with Tyvekk suits… I stared at him in disbelief. We are perpetually the underfunded and forgotten step-child of Health and Human Services. If the medical examiner’s office has supplies, it’s because we stole them from another department in the middle of the night. Having the fire department ask us for anything is like the goddamned CEO of Amazon asking a homeless person for spare change. Seriously.
Apart from these new-and-improved COVID-related blunders, they’re still up to their usual idiocy. On my last shift I had a woman who allegedly commit suicide by hanging herself in her garage. The fire department cut her down before either law-enforcement or I could get there. Then, upon realizing that she was actually dead, figured that the best way to preserve the scene and all the associated evidence was to string her back up in a rough approximation of how they found her. Meaning that if it didn’t look like a homicide before… it sure as fuck did now.
I could go on and on…
But the fact is, I get it. We’re all kind of losing our shit.
Whenever the police call me with a new death, we have this strange approximation of a debate as to what they’re supposed to do. While it’s their job to investigate deaths along with me, we’re not exactly sure how they’re supposed to do it. They tell me that their marching orders are to wear disposable scrubs and shoe covers and eye-protection and masks and gloves on the scene of a death, but then they’re not actually issued any of these items. Or they only have one of each item and they’re not sure they want to burn through their PPE on a death scene when they have a whole shift to go, no back-up supplies and anything could happen…
And that’s the real struggle… anything could happen.
I watched a movie recently in which one of the characters asks, “You know what’s the scariest part of a roller-coaster? It’s the waiting in line.”
As Tom Petty astutely observed, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part…”
And I think that’s right. It’s not the fight for survival that’s eating all of us alive, it’s the waiting to fight for survival. When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was almost a relief compared to the previous 5 years of confused doctors, vague guesses and the bottomlessness of the question- what the hell was wrong with me? It was a relief to have the adversary dragged into the light where I could see it. At least now I knew what I was fighting.
Much the same way, here, at Health and Human Services, at the police department, at the fire department- we’re bracing for an impact that really seems to be taking it’s sweet fucking time getting here. We’re laser focused and efficient as a bullet when the shit hits the fan, but when we’re stuck waiting for the shit to get thrown at the fan in the first place, we lose our goddamned minds. We’re waiting for the virus to kick in the door of our county and start grabbing people by the throat. We’re waiting for the self-quarantine to boil over into domestic violence, assaults and overdoses. We’re waiting for the economic shut-down to detonate into riots and suicides. We know that the universe just threw a hand grenade into the crowded building known as earth, and now we’re just waiting for it to go off… Waiting… Waiting… Maybe it’s a dud? Maybe he forgot to pull the pin? Maybe the worst is over?
Maybe it hasn’t even started?
Or maybe it’s a gag… the biggest joke the universe ever played on the human race. Guess what? The disease isn’t half as scary as our bumbling buffoonery in reaction to it. I’m not half as scared of the coronavirus as I am of all the under-informed, untrained, paranoid lunatics who went running out and bought guns when the pandemic went down.
Either way, we’re going to have to wade into it and fight, regardless of how many latex gloves we’ve got between us. I just wish it would hurry up and reveal itself. I’m tired of wondering which direction the explosion is going to come from. Or if it’s coming at all…
So I guess that’s where we’re at this week, all gloved-up and nowhere to go…
Waiting to fight for survival…
In line for the roller-coaster.
It could have been worse.
Day 1 was more or less uneventful aside from all the funeral home craziness. I had one dude jump off a 5-story parking garage (an unnervingly popular method of suicide) and an array of really uncomfortable phone calls… all of which kicked off with the previously blogged about situation wherein the funeral homes completely lost their shit in the face of crisis.
On the one hand many of these phone calls weren’t anything unusual: mostly just folks asking questions about their loved one’s death. On the other hand, although these phone calls were “normal”, everyone that I spoke to had a panicky edge to their voice… more so than usual. The family of the suicidal jumper was downright hostile when I asked about the dead guy’s mental health history. And in another conversation in which a son was asking about the post-mortem changes he observed on his father’s body at the time of his funeral… well… the tone with which he asked these questions made me wonder if he suspected me of gleefully beating the shit out of his father’s corpse before we released him to a funeral home. I mean, decomposition isn’t pretty, but it certainly isn’t an intentional brutality that we medical examiners inflict on the deceased and their bereaved families. People die and then their bodies fall apart, it’s science, not a practical joke.
So what’s with the “HOW-DARE-YOU” tone?
I don’t know. It seemed to me like everyone I spoke to was significantly more on edge than usual- and seeing as how I regularly speak to people who are having the worst day of their lives- that’s really saying something.
Of course, in terms of being twitchy and unreasonable, one demographic definitely took the gold medal in the crazy olympics on day 2. They were so off-the-chain that they had me dropping the F-bomb all over the place.
That F-bomb being…
I awake at 0430 to the sound of the cell phone going off. Signaling someone has called our office number and the call went to voicemail. I pitch out of bed and drag myself out into the kitchen to call our voicemail. It’s a funeral home employee. He sounds confused and hesitant, like he’s not sure if he should be calling. I don’t blame him, I have something of a reputation for being a raging bitch when I’m woken up in the wee hours of the morning in order to deal with some inane problem that easily could have waited until I’m thoroughly caffeinated.
“Ummmm… Hi. This is Nate from *funeral home name omitted*. Can you tell me if Betsy Swanson (not her real name) is released from the scene? I just spoke to the family and they’re telling me that she’s been released and I need to come pick her up.”
This is probably a hospice death and no one bothered to tell the funeral home. Hospice deaths don’t need to be reported to us as they don’t fall under medical examiner jurisdiction (except for a very few exceptions). But it should be pretty easy to deal with so I call Nate back and remind myself to be nice because if I raise my cortisol levels too high by bitching him out, I’ll never get back to sleep.
“Nate, this is the medical examiner,” I say, trying to clear the sludge of sleep from my brain. “What’s going on?”
“Hey, so I got a call from this family, asking me to come pick up a body… The name of the deceased is Betsy Swanson (not really) and I just need to know if she’s released.”
“Well,” I try to soften the edge from my voice, chances are Nate doesn’t want to be awake either and I don’t need to make it worse for both of us. “I don’t know anything about a Betsy Swanson (you get the idea) No one called me about any deaths tonight. Was she in hospice or something?”
“No. She wasn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I asked the family. She wasn’t in hospice.”
“Is she at a SNF or something?” (A SNF is a “skilled nursing facility” and sometimes they forget to call on deaths because someone, somewhere perpetuated the rumor that residential medical facilities don’t have to notify us when someone dies.)
“No. She’s at a residence. The family called me. They said a medical crew had been there…”
“A medical crew was there?”
“Yeah, and the medical crew told them to call the funeral home. It sounded like they’re from another country or something.”
“The medical crew said WHAT?”
I can hear Nate shrinking away from his phone as though it’s going to spring out of his hand and devour him. It’s clear my confusion has taken an abrupt left turn into outrage. Nate scrambles to explain.
“The family told me that she’s got cancer or something. I have their name and address. And, yeah, they said a medical crew came to the house and then told them to call a funeral home and left.”
I copy down the information. I feel sorry for Nate. He’s obviously as baffled as I am by this story and he absolutely did the right thing by calling me. But that doesn’t mean he wanted to. I assure Nate that if a medical crew was at the house, I will get to the bottom of it soon enough. I’ll call dispatch and figure out who went to that address this morning and what, exactly, happened there.
When I call dispatch, they’re apparently training a new employee, because when I identify myself as the M.E. she refuses to pony up any information regarding the address Nate gave me.
“Look,” I tell her, not bothering to couch my irritation, “This is the MEDICAL EXAMINER my call sign is ******* (no, I’m not going to tell you what it is) I need to know who was called to this address and what happened there.”
“I can’t provide you with that information,” she recites mechanically, her voice beginning to waver slightly. “I can page the fire crew involved and ask them to call you.”
“Ok, I need to speak to your supervisor.” I don’t like pulling a move like that, but for the life of me, I cannot begin to comprehend what the big secret might be.
When I get the supervisor on the phone, she isn’t much more help. “Well… understand. We have no way of verifying who you are over the phone. So we can’t give you any particulars about this call-“
“Do you have a lot of people who call you at 4:30 in the morning, claiming to be the medical examiner and giving my call sign?”
She stutters for a second.
“I’ll have the fire crew call you.”
I have no idea how long it takes to send that page, but the fire crew doesn’t call me back for approximately 45 minutes- maybe because they have to turn off their night-light and do a round of pushups before they can interact with the public. When he does call, the interaction is short. I ask him if he was called to the afore mentioned address, and when he replies in the affirmative, I ask him to describe what happened.
“Well,” he says. “We were called for ‘shortness of breath’. When we got there, the family was from Algeria or something. Only a couple of them spoke English and their elderly mother was there. She was incoherent and having a hard time breathing. I mean, she really looked like she had been sick for a long time and was dying. Super skinny, jaundiced… you know. They said she’d been diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks back at St. Joseph’s. They asked us to put some oxygen on her but we told them that if we treated her in any way we would have to transport her. And they said they didn’t want that. So I just told them to call the funeral home when she was dead.”
“You told them to, ‘just call the funeral home when she was dead’.”
“OK.” I do my best to keep my voice level and not begin oozing the profound level of blinding contempt and anger I’m feeling. “Did you call medical direction?” (Which is to say, did he discuss this whole situation with anyone further up his own professional food chain)
I grit my teeth. “Was this woman on hospice?”
Deep breath. “Did she have a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order?”
He hesitates. I can tell the reality of his faux pas is beginning to dawn on him. “… No.”
“Did anyone at the scene have medical power of attorney?”
He gulps. “No… I…” He stutters, he chokes and I give him a minute to blurt out whatever equivocation he’s brewing.
“So… here’s the deal,” I do my best to sound conciliatory, but I’m fucking pissed. Can I speak to the Lieutenant?”
“I am the Lieutenant.”
“OK, look. I’m not even going to address the whole patient care aspect of this situation, because that is not my area and I don’t know what your standards are for ‘patient abandonment’ or ‘professional negligence’ and so on. That’s not my wheelhouse. I DO, however, take serious issue with the fact that you released a person to a funeral home from a scene before they were even dead.”
“Well… I thought-“
“You do realize, Im assuming, that it’s AGAINST THE LAW for anyone to release a body from a scene except for the medical examiner. And that doesn’t even address the fact that this woman wasn’t even dead yet. And she had nothing resembling advanced directives that might explain or justify why you thought this was a reasonable thing to do.”
“I just thought-“
“I’d like the name and phone number of your Battalion Chief, please.”
He gives me the information and I get back on the phone with dispatch and tell them that we need to get a police officer to that house for a death investigation. I then call the officer who’s going to the scene and explain to him that he’s walking into a situation with a very confused family from Algeria that isn’t culturally familiar with American death investigation laws. Then I call the family at the scene and explain to them that no one is in trouble, but a uniformed officer is coming to their house to make a report because that’s how it’s done here. The family member who answers the phone at the scene tells me that he just got a call from the firefighter who was at his house earlier. Apparently, the Lieutenant got the family’s phone number from dispatch (who had no problem handing out information to him) and attempted to furiously back-pedal and re-engineer his earlier recommendations to the family.
Finally, I call the on-duty battalion chief. When he answers, I introduce myself and he tells me he’s already spoken to the Lieutenant who has explained the situation and mia-culpa-ed until he practically wet his turn-out gear. I tell the BC that, while I appreciate the fact that the Lieutenant appraised him of the situation, I don’t believe there is a thorough understanding of what went wrong here. I reiterate that several laws were broken and that the local heroes need to understand that they are not the goddamned authority in every circumstance. They need to respect their own scope of practice, stay in their lane and stop authoritatively winging it when they encounter an unfamiliar situation. More importantly, they need to understand that it was pretty fucking hazardous to just leave it to this family to know when their family member was dead. By the Lieutenant’s own report, most of them didn’t speak English… so what assurance did he have that these people were in any way qualified to pronounce their own family member dead? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always as obvious as you’d think- especially not when someone has been chronically ill and has looked like a corpse for weeks. How does the fire department feel about opening themselves up to that kind of liability? Imagine if she had arrived at the funeral home and they realize she’s still alive? Or worse, imagine the funeral home rolls her into the cooler and finds her on the floor the next morning, because she awoke, attempted to get out, and died of hypothermia, alone is a steel refrigerator surrounded by corpses.
The Battalion Chief harrumphs a few times and is infuriatingly dismissive of my points. He admits that the Lieutenant was out of line, but then says that the Lieutenant admits he was wrong (which is nothing short of a miracle, because in the 9 years I’ve worked this job… as well as the years I worked EMS before that… I have NEVER known a firefighter to admit he was wrong about anything. ) But then the Chief brings it all to a head with the two comments that are, truly, the crux of my long-term beef with the fire department.
“Well,” he says with a condescending tone that implies this settles the matter, “the Lieutenant, he screwed up, but he’s a good guy.”
I’m too infuriated to go on… so he goes on:
“Besides, the Lieutenant just went through his mother’s death. She was in hospice and I think the situation was triggering to him. He was just emotional.”
And there it is.
You might think that I’m being too hard on the fire department, but the truth is, I’m hard on them because no one else is. I don’t know what it’s like in other jurisdictions, but around here, the fire department lives in this magical white tower of imagined infallibility. No one ever questions their judgement or gets in their faces when they fuck up. This results in the Fire Department consistently thinking that they can, literally, do no wrong. I can’t count the number of times that America’s heroes have blithely broken state laws and severely compromised death investigations by simply doing whatever the hell they wanted, and then refusing to accept the possibility that maybe, just maybe, what they did was FUCKING STUPID. And the problem isn’t so much the firefighters themselves, but rather the upper management. The problem is guys like this Battalion Chief who seem to think the excuses he’s offering for his Lieutenant’s gaffe somehow balance out the severity of his mistake.
First of all, I have officially HAD IT with a man’s shitty behavior being dismissed because, “he’s a good guy”. How good a guy he is or isn’t doesn’t change the fact that he broke the goddamned law and put people in danger. So he makes great chili and really knows how to tell a joke… he still needs to do his fucking job. I might bake cookies for my co-workers, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have to show up when someone dies and then write a report about it. And shielding someone from some much needed correction and discipline doesn’t do him, the fire department or the general public any favors. This “good guy” talk communicates to the department as a whole that such behavior is acceptable and you can get a free pass as long as you’re a, “good guy”.
Secondly, as a woman, I’m assuming I don’t have to emphasize to anybody the kind of hit MY professional credibility would take if I explained away impulsive, uninformed behavior by saying I was “emotional”. I would be setting back the progress and self respect of every woman who ever dared to learn to READ if I chalked up my lousy job performance to being emotional. So I cannot stomach the notion that a tulip-toed FIREFIGHTER was using THAT as an excuse. I’ve come to work when I had a fever of 103. I’ve come to work on a freshly sprained ankle. And yes, I came to work less than a week after my own beloved father’s completely unexpected death. I sobbed my brains out in between calls, but you know what? I held it together because that’s what a fucking boss-bitch does. And with the rest of the world in a swirling, panicky, infectious tailspin, I cannot emphasize the importance of emergency workers HOLDING IT TOGETHER. AND NOT ACTING LIKE A BUNCH OF IMPULSIVE SCHOOLGIRLS IN THE MIDST OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC. If you’re too “emotional” to do your job, then you’re compromising all of us. GO THE FUCK HOME!
But back to the story at hand…
I glance at the clock. I could growl this out with the Battalion Chief but there’s no point. He’s already boxed up this incident in his mind and filed it away in the “not-that-big-of-a-deal” drawer in his head. I can tell I’m going to have to take this further up their hierarchy and put something in writing. So be it. If I go back to sleep now, I might manage a total of 5 hours before shift change at 0800.
I stagger into the office and hand the pager to my co-worker. I suck down some coffee and take a quick detour into my supervisor’s office to impart the happenings of last night and this morning to her. She’s amazing. No matter how busy she is, she always has time to hear about what fresh-fuckery we encounter on our shifts.
Did I mention she’s the county epidemiologist and she’s got an iron-clad PhD in infectious disease? Did I also mention that she hasn’t eaten an actual meal in almost a month and hasn’t had a day off for 20 days and counting.
Yeah. Guess how she responds to the “emotional fireman” story…
It’s a new reality.
Suddenly we’re all sitting in our homes, chewing on our fingernails as we watch the red dots spread out on the computer screen map like seeping bloodstains.
No one is attending school. No one is going to movies. No one is seeing concerts. No one is working out at the gym. No one is going to work…
…except for me.
(and the grocery store clerk at New Seasons)
I left for work today a luxurious 20 minutes later than usual because I knew there wouldn’t be any traffic. But as far as I can tell, it’s pretty much the only GOOD thing that’s happened as a result of this shit show.
That’s right, the medical examiner’s office is open with a vengeance. It is said that the only thing for certain in this life is death and taxes. And it’s entirely possible that taxes will be waived for the year as more and more clamor rises from the masses. No one can afford to pay their rent… let alone their taxes- so who knows. Taxes may be optional this year.
The downside is, death is still a thing. As the panic surrounding the COVID pandemic really begins to pick up avalanche momentum, The medical examiner’s office is only one cubicle away from where the shit show is really on display- I’m not gonna lie, the Public Health people are having a much worse time than I am… so far. When I saw the county epidemiologist today, she told me that she’s been snorting No-Doze and it’s been 19 days since she had the time to take a shower.
The medical examiners office is doing ok, but we’re starting to feel the strain as well. It’s only a matter of time before the fatalities really start piling up. And I don’t just mean the folks who die of the virus. I’m talking about the people who freak out from the social isolation and anxiety and kill themselves. I’m talking about the families that are already hanging on by a very thin thread suddenly having to spend weeks quarantined together… all angry atoms vibrating together in an enclosed space, hovering on the edge of detonation. I’m talking about all those assholes who think it’s fucking anarchy out there and start driving around drunk- assuming the police have better things to do than pull them over. I’m talking about riots as people become more and more desperate, stupidly believing that the only thing standing between them and complete annihilation is a roll of fucking toilet paper.
It’s so maddening that all I can do is say the F-word…
I arrive at work. I’m nervous. The magnitude of the corona virus hasn’t quite hit the ground yet, but we’re beginning to sense that it’s a much bigger problem than anyone thought. Businesses have started to close down. Most notably, my gym has closed down leaving me with an overabundance of nervous energy. I feel as edgy as a downed power-line, snapping and crackling on the pavement, daring anyone to come closer.
The first thing that happens is Henry tells me that a body arrived at a funeral home with “corona virus” written on it. I’m not altogether sure what he means.
“Was it like… a sticky note or something?” I ask him.
He doesn’t know, all he knows is that the funeral home employees are losing their minds with panic and don’t want to touch the body. Henry is talking about having to track down who the hell got the rumor started that the dead body was a COVID-19 victim. I shake my head in disbelief.
Then I get a call from the grandmother of one of my decedents from last shift. Specifically, it’s the grandmother of a dead baby. It was awful. This infant was found deceased in bed next to his mother. It’s a co-sleeping death- which is something I know no one wants to hear, but it’s true. Babies and parents shouldn’t sleep in the same beds and the repercussions of doing so are sometimes deadly.
But putting THAT debate aside for another day….
Then problem is, someone from the funeral home has called the family and told them that the baby tested positive for COVID-19. The funeral home is now refusing to let the devastated family come in and view their deceased child one last time. The funeral home is also refusing to touch the baby or proceed with any burial or cremation arrangements.
Then the grandmother tells me that the baby’s father (her son) had to tell his work that it is believed that his child died of COVID-19. His employer has freaked the fuck out and refused to let him come in to work until he can provide documentation verifying that he does NOT have COVID-19.
The grandmother is sobbing this whole story out and asking me why no one at our office told the family that the baby died of COVID. I do my best to tell the grandmother that no one mentioned this to them by virtue of the fact that it isn’t fucking true. The death had nothing to do with the corona virus and I have no clue where the funeral home got that idea. Nor can I imagine why they didn’t bother to confirm it with our office before they brutalized the family in this way. I tell her I will get to the bottom of it and I call the funeral home with the light of righteous indig-fucking-nation blazing in my eyes.
The funeral director tells me that he got the information from the transport crew that they hire to pick up bodies for them from the morgue. He claims that if there’s a problem, it’s not his fault, it’s the fault of the transport company. They’re the ones that said the baby had COVID. So I call the transport company… completely prepared to tear them limb from limb. However, the transport company swears they got the news from the morgue employee who released the body to them. So then I call the morgue, where the state morgue attendants claim that absolutely, under no circumstances did anyone tell anyone that this baby had COVID. In fact, the morgue folks are downright offended that I dare suggest such a thing.
Ultimately, I talk to the pathologist who did the autopsy. He informs me that recent guidelines mandate a COVID test for all pediatric deaths in the state. So the baby was tested for the corona virus and that test came back negative.
I backtrack through the phone calls and graciously disperse this information to all involved parties, not one of whom is willing to admit that they’re the asshole that started the rumor that this kid had the corona virus. Ultimately I talk to the family and assure them that their home is not ground zero for the latest outbreak. The problem is, now there’s no help for the father who has been ordered to stay home from work. He can’t prove that he doesn’t have this illness because he can’t get a test. Right now, there aren’t enough tests available and the Health Authority isn’t willing to burn a test swab on someone who isn’t showing any symptoms and has no known contact with a verified Covid case.
So he’s screwed.
Then I get a call from the local hospital. It’s a nurse calling to report the death of a known COVID victim. It’s the first confirmed corona virus death in our county. It’s starting.
He doesn’t know what to do. But I can’t really help him. I tell him that the death isn’t reportable to our office since the decedent has been in the hospital for over 24 hours and the cause of death wasn’t a matter that required investigation. I tell him that the attending physician should have been briefed on which agencies to call and who to alert in this situation.
“Yeah,” he says. “The attending doc told me to call you.”
It’s not even 10 a.m. The day has barely started.
I’m still on shift for another 46 hours.