Saturday, January 10, 2009

Oh coroner! My coroner! Or, the job market is bad, but still...

In the state and county where I work, the coroner's office must be notified of every death, and depending on a series of criteria, may be required to conduct a death investigation. Even for patients in hospice care, a death investigation may be required. One common reason for a death investigation is a fall or fracture in the days right before death, that precipitates the final decline. When hospice workers report the death (by paging a coroner's investigator; one is on call 7x24), the investigator may request certain information from the medical record, may come to the site to examine the body, interview the family, and review the records, and may elect to have the body transported to the coroner's facility for further investigation or autopsy. There was a death in a care facility one night, and the coroner's investigator requested transport of the body for investigation. Luckily, the family said their goodbyes and left the facility before the transport service arrived. I say luckily, because the transport service dispatched a driver who looked as if he'd been repairing a car when he got the call. He was a big burly young guy, dressed in work pants and jacket--I looked for his name in an oval patch on his jacket, but that detail was missing. He had a badly grown out crewcut, dirt under his fingernails, and bloodshot eyes. His cot squeaked badly as we walked to the room to retrieve the body. I told him he needed some WD-40, and he muttered something about a brake job. He then told me he hadn't been getting more than a few hours of sleep a night for weeks, because he'd been filling his brother's call shifts while his brother was on vacation, and that particular night (it was about 2 AM) he'd had only about an hour of sleep. "You're DRIVING?" I asked. "Yup," he said, "Hope I make it." I think if I were the deceased I'd sit right up in horror at that point, and plan to make my way to the coroner's on my own, but this deceased was apparently unconcerned and remained Very Quiet while loaded into the back of the van. I hope he made it, because you'd hate to be the family and hear that your loved one had been in an auto accident ON THE WAY TO THE MORGUE. Seriously, if I'd been a family member and this guy showed up to transport my loved one, I'd have declined permission, not that it might have done much good, since it was for the coroner's office. And, in any case the driver told me the back-up for his shift was HIS GRANDFATHER. Apparently the business is family-owned... Imagine making conversation on dates, saying you worked for your family's business DRIVING DEAD PEOPLE ON ONE HOUR OF SLEEP. This poor guy is doomed to remain single for a long, long time, I fear.


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