According to my wife, I use the phrase “one of the worst houses I’ve ever been in? quite a lot. In retrospect, I seem to refer to a rather long list of houses I’ve had the misfortune to be exposed to. I suppose my use of the phrase is no different than when a person says, “It was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen? when in truth there may very well be over a hundred titles on this list if the person was to write them all down.

My list of worst houses changes as newer candidates for consideration come along, but my number one selection has yet to be replaced after years of holding the top spot. I’ve referred to some of the filthier conditions in previous posts (“Human Litter Boxes? comes to mind), but this particular house doesn’t owe it’s ranking to an overabundance of misplaced fecal matter. Of course by misplaced I mean as in “put in the wrong place? not as in “Now what did I do with that turd??

When I first took the call, my decision to investigate the death was based on the woman’s lack of sufficient medical history to account for her death. It had nothing to do with the condition of the house. For the record, I had no idea that the house was in such bad shape.

In recent years, I’ve gotten the impression that some officers are reluctant to voluntarily offer details that might discourage a visit from the medical examiner. Unless an officer is questioned thoroughly, the basic details they provide can be as misleading as a personal ad. For example, a scenario where a man found dead in bed by family is seemingly simple at first. The reality of the scenario is ultimately revealed when I arrive to find that the man is morbidly obese, his body is decomposed, his bed is a waterbed, and his bedroom is upstairs.

This issue of accurate scene description can go the other way as well. I’ve gone to countless scenes where the officers were convinced that the person had been dead for weeks based on the looks or smell of the deceased, and they absolutely refuse to go back inside or send in a rookie to accompany me. Almost every time I’m relieved to find that my perception of reality is not nearly as revolting as theirs.

Back to the story. When I arrived at the house, one of the officers led me around to the back door. I didn’t think the back door was particularly unusual. If I had given it any thought, I would have simply assumed that the reporting party or the officers had forced entry at the back door.

As it turned out, the front door had been kicked in, but the officers were unable to push the door open because there was something blocking it. That same object appeared to be partially blocking the back door as well. The officers had managed to shove this door open just enough for the slimmest officer to squeeze through and find the woman in her bed. That same officer was leading me to the back door. He expressed relief that I was of a similar build and described the object that blocked both doors—a pile of garbage that was waist deep covering the entire floor of the house.

Of all the times for an officer to describe a scene accurately, this had to be that time. It was a gigantic pile of everything that was exactly waist high. It wasn’t garbage in the sense that it was trash—of which there was certainly a fair amount. It was garbage in the sense that it was just stuff that no reasonable person would have wanted. Boxes of knickknacks (didn’t realize that was one word), bags of clothing, broken toys, parts of appliances. It was as though the woman had collected the leftovers from every garage sale that she and anyone else had ever been to.

Fortunately, the officer had been wrong in one respect. There was a small footpath that ran a course from the back door to the bed where the woman was located. The external examination was unremarkable. The only thing I found that I scratched my head over was how a woman of such girth was able to squeeze her way in the way I just had. Then a greater mystery presented itself. How was I going to get her out?

It seemed that the easiest route was going to be the shortest one—the window at the foot of the bed. Despite being on the first floor, there was still a considerable drop from the window to the ground. I pictured all of the things that could go wrong as the one person the local funeral home sent out to transport the body and I lowered a full-grown woman out a window. These images covered every likely outcome from “successful maneuver? to “body falls out of torn body bag as crowd of onlookers vomit in succession.?

I was called back to reality when one of the officers present offered some assistance…

“Do you want me to call the fire department??

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