Sunday, January 4, 2009

My First Coroner Call

Did I mention that my boss, Earl, was the coroner for the county? One of the beauties of my job was that I got to play coroner when he was out of town. There was not a lot of training for the position. Most things you learned by doing and no two coroner calls were the same. Earl had tons of experience and I had zero. Well, not exactly zero, I did go out on coroner calls when I could but we were a small county and it wasn’t like people were dropping dead every day.

My first call was for a man that had drowned in the lake. The County Investigator, Danny, called and told me he was picking me up. The Rescue Squad found the man and had already taken him to the hospital. On the way Danny told me all that he knew. The family was from Georgia, they were picnicking at the lake and the man had been decidedly drunk. The fact that he could not swim had been held in check by the amount of alcohol he consumed. Alcohol can be kind of mean that way. The man had wandered a good way from shore and the water was barely more than waist deep. However the lake was created by the TVA back in the 60’s and the man didn’t know that he was walking down an old road bed. When he veered to his right he took his last step past the drop off where the bottom was 7 feet further down than where he had previously been walking. Gravity being what it is, he proceeded to sink to the bottom.

At the hospital we proceeded to the ER to verify the validity of the gentleman’s death. On walking in the room I was pretty confident that he had passed on. I explained that I was playing coroner and asked Phil, a friend of mine on the Rescue Squad, if he was comfortable that the man was dead. Phil glanced at the body and turned back to me with a look of “are you kidding?” I then said that I pronounce the man dead and asked if I should make a sign or something; since I had never done this before. The ER doc said my signature on his papers would suffice.

Danny then said we need to go have a talk with the family. As we headed down the hall he asked if I wanted to take the lead on speaking with them. I am sure my look conveyed that that was the stupidest think I’d ever heard. I told him that the less I had to say, the better.

In the room Danny made introductions and told the family that I was the Coroner. I swear in front of God all I said was “I’m sorry for your loss!” When Danny was finished he once again conveyed our condolences and we left the family to their mourning.

So my first coroner call was pretty uneventful and Earl congratulated me on letting Danny take the lead and me not screwing anything up. I was proud of myself. At least I was for two weeks.

Paul, an older gentleman who sold insurance for The Home, came into the office one morning and wanted to know what the hell I was trying to do to that poor family from Georgia! He was busting a gut laughing and obviously having a good time. He also said that fishing was going to suffer because everyone was now afraid of the monster in the lake. He said that I had told the family an octopus had dragged the gentleman underwater and proceeded to suck all the blood out of his body thru his foot. Since this was indeed as ridiculous as it sounded, I told Paul he was out of his mind and that I only looked that stupid.

He proceeded to prove that I was in fact that stupid. He pulled out a copy of the local, small town Georgia paper and had hi-lighted an article on the front page. The quote in the article was “the County Coroner said that Mr. Grimes was pulled underwater by an octopus that proceeded to suck all of the blood out of Mr. Grimes body through his foot.” I looked around the office and told everyone that I swear all I said was ‘I’m sorry for your loss’.

We did some checking with the funeral director at the other home and found out it was true. I had created quite a stir in that corner of Georgia. He tried to explain to the family that Mr. Grimes still had blood in his body but they wanted nothing of it. It seemed to be a source of pride that he had passed away ‘not by alcohol’ but by the “Monster from the Lake!”