Anytime a call came in from the city medical examiners office for a body pick up we knew it would be bad. People normally were taken to the M.E. who had been murdered or in car accidents. My first M.E. pick up was a mess. It was a car accident victim: a 19 year old male and his 21 year old girlfriend. Both had been severely beaten up in the high speed wreck.
I pulled the van into the dimly lit M.E. garage. Once I was in, the garage door closed, so that the public could not see the horrific sights that would transpire. I entered through the glass double doors leading into the M.E. morgue. A large man wearing bloody scrubs, rubber gloves and a surgeons mask came in with a clipboard. “Are you from the funeral home?” “Yes” I replied. “I haven’t seen you before, you must be new. I’m Tom.” He said. I was glad he did not extend his hand for a friendly handshake. Though I too had on rubber gloves (standard protocol for removals) I did not care to shake his bloody hand. “Let me get the personal effects, I’ll be right back.” Tom said as he disappeared behind a door that said “M.E. office.”
The bodies, both on gurneys and in body bags were to my left awaiting their trip to the funeral home. I had been trained that no matter how grotesque and mangled a body was, I would be required to unzip the body bag, locate the foot and compare the ID numbers on my paperwork with the ID on their tag. Then, I would be required to attach another tag, with the funeral home ID #, which would be different #. I would prepare the tags before arriving on scene at a removal so that the removal could be done as quickly as possible.
The body bags in the case were white. Though the zippers were closed, they were bloody, which meant that inside of the body bag would most likely be a mess. It was not only the car wreck that had caused the mess, but the autopsy that had been performed at the ME. Autopsies were standard in accidents and murders, and always included the opening of the chest cavity, which would often be re-sewn shut, but never cleaned up.
I unzipped the first bag. The smell was horrific. It smelled mostly of blood and body fluid. The bodies had not yet began to smell of decomposition, but the smells were very gross. My gag reflexes engaged as I tried to keep form throwing up. I was glad the M.E. was in the other room. I imagine he would have made fun of me had he seen me dry heave. Unfortunately the body bag had to be completely unzipped for me to find the foot. I located the guys foot, which was attached to a mangled leg that had been broken in three places. I attached the ankle tag quickly and re-zipped the bag. Now my rubber gloves were bloody as well.
I moved over to the second body, unzipped the bag, located the ankle and attached the tag. The girlfriend’s legs were not as badly damaged as her boyfriends. But her face was severely damaged.
The M.E. came out the office with 2 plastic zip lock type bags with their personal items. A wallet, some jewelry, and a watch. These items would have to be documented once back at the funeral home so that they made it back to the family.
I transferred the body bags onto my own gurneys and loaded them into the van. Upon arriving back at the funeral home I was met in the parking lot by 2 of the embalmers, who looked like kids on Christmas morning. They had spoken to the funeral director about the victims and were excited that they would have about 8 hours of reconstructive work to do on the bodies to prepare them for a viewing. We rolled the gurneys in and we immediately transferred them onto the embalming tables. Boyfriend and girlfriend, side-by-side for the last time. Kinda weird.
The Bodies were so badly mangled, I remember the embalmers placing broomsticks in their legs to give them shape and using a liquid gel that could be injected into the face with syringe. The gel was kind-of like botox, and would fill out features on a face that had “deflated” after the person died. This technique could make one look more the way they looked in life. I remember a lot of this being used on the car crash victims to make them look less banged-up. The bruising on the face was covered generously with make-up. A current photograph of the victim was set up next to the embalming table to use as a reference.
Once these two were embalmed, they were back in my care as another removal staff person and I dressed them in their burial clothes, and placed them into their caskets. Before the burial clothes could be put on, the bodies had to be “dressed” in plastic pants and shirt in the even that there would be some purging or leaking of fluids during the funeral. This was common for victims who’s bodies had been severely mangled and lots of embalming fluids and sewing had been done during the embalming process. The last thing a funeral director wanted was for the body to seep out fluid while a mourner was viewing the body. This could be a traumatic experience for the mourner, depending on who it was.
It was sad to see these two lives cut short. I was sure to drive safely and slow for the next several weeks as I would recall the horrific effects of careless driving. Though I never had any interaction with the families of these two, I know it was a sudden, tragic shock that rocked their lives. I did not envy their grief.