10
Mar
05

“Mind Over Brain Matter”

Here’s my response to the second question from Heidi at heidis.blogspot.com:

Click here for response to her first question.

Q: How long did it take you to get used to this line of work?

A: I am also asked this question a lot. I’ve always felt that there are two aspects to getting used to death investigation. The physical aspect of being able to stomach the work itself and the mental aspect of being able to handle the work without a negative psychological impact.

When I first started, I was most concerned about how my stomach would react to routinely being exposed to autopsies. For some reason the thought of vomiting in front of a group of seasoned veterans was more unsettling to me than the thought of a rapid onset of night terrors likely to result from seeing human beings broken down into their basic components.

The first few weeks on the job I skipped breakfast just to be safe, and I would even skip lunch if I knew there were bodies to be autopsied in the afternoon. Before too long, the resulting hunger grew to be more annoying than the fear of vomiting. I was soon able to eat lunch between autopsies without a second thought. In my case, routine exposure to internal organs helped me to better differentiate between a persons intestines and my leftover spaghetti. I’m at the point now that I can walk into the morgue still chewing just about anything while seeing just about anything.

As for the physical aspect, I was fairly lucky. I needed to be trained right away to fill the position, so I was pretty much thrown right into the mix in “sink or swim? fashion. In retrospect, this method seems to be the best for training someone to perform the work that is required. An almost immediate hands-on approach offered me little time to stop and consider whatever task I was about to perform.

Within my first few days on the job I was being told things like “Put your gloves on and round up every piece of skull and brain matter you can find,? and I did as I was told. If I had been coddled and asked if I thought I could emotionally handle doing such a thing, then there would have been time for doubt—doubt that should have been addressed before I ever took the job.

It’s hard to assign an exact length of time as to how long it took me to adjust, and I’m fairly certain it differs for everyone. Some people never do get used to it and quit after a few weeks or months. Some even quit after a few days. I’ve had days when I was ready to quit, but I doubt that I’d be able to find a job that pays so little and expects so much.

Thanks for the questions, Heidi. Hope that answers them…

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2 Responses to ““Mind Over Brain Matter””


  1. March 13, 2005 at 1:12 am

    Thanks for answering my questions!! Fascinating, really. I look forward to more from you.

    Look, if you ever want to know about the grotesque and mysterious business of television news, you just, um, let me know. 😉

  2. 2 lindsey
    March 16, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    do you have to find every single piece of the body thats layin around

    Lindsey:

    We do our best to collect everything the deceased was born with, but in certain cases it’s very difficult–if not impossible–to find everything. Probably the hardest to “round up” in my opinion is an intra-oral shotgun wound that takes place outdoors. The shotgun blast is so devastating that it can create fragments of bone and brain matter that are similar in size to shattered glass. The small size is bad enough, but the difficulty of the task is compounded when you consider these fragments are scattered in the grass for up to fifty feet in every direction.

    A Douglas


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