“Knowledge is Power??

I suppose everyone at one time or another has learned of something that in retrospect they realized they could have gone their whole life without knowing. For some, it may have been an embarrassing family secret they were privy to. For others, calculus—or in my case, basic algebra—may be the one thing they considered to be useless knowledge.

Over the years, this job has provided countless opportunities for me to wish I had remained ignorant of information that I had been presented with. Technically, these details were knowledge, but not in the sense that they were of any practical use. The most recent example of one of these opportunities occurred just last week.

I spent the better part of an afternoon reading through police reports, child welfare reports, and witness statements pertaining to the latest child death I had to investigate. Without going into specifics, the information contained therein chronicled a pattern of abuse that would have lead any reasonable person to conclude that death for this particular child was inevitable.

Granted, all deaths are inevitable, but most of us are afforded the opportunity to live long enough that we are able to comprehend the concept of mortality. This particular child barely lived long enough to comprehend the concept of sitting up, but spent the last several months of its life in a vegetative state that prohibited it from doing so.

After reading the particulars of the case, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What good did that do me?? Sure, I was able to determine the circumstances surrounding the critical injury that the child received. But beyond that, knowing detailed information about the day-to-day life of the child, the way it was treated, and the way the parents acted was of little use to me.

When I first started investigating deaths, having special knowledge of restricted details surrounding a case was one of the more enjoyable aspects of this job. Family and friends were eager to know what they hadn’t seen on the news or read in the papers. There have even been times when this knowledge has been downright amusing. To this day, there is nothing better than watching a reporter on the news give details that aren’t even close to what really happened, or to watch them try and create a story out of the scant details that the police spokesperson has provided.

Most everyone has watched (or avoided watching) news stories about some heinous act committed against a child on the evening news. These segments are usually limited to 45 seconds, so the reporters can only hit the high points and seem eager to use shocking keywords like “sodomy? and “child pornography? that are more likely to attract an audience. These generic terms are easily understood by the general public and elicit comments from viewers such as, “How could someone do that to a child?? or “I hope they rot in jail!?

Regardless of the impact such stories have on us initially the truth is that unless the story is particularly shocking, we forget it in no time at all. Even producers seem to move on when the next big story comes along. I’ve often wondered how much more of an impact these stories would have on viewers if the reporters were to pass on the specific details of the case. Maybe passing on such details to the general public would educate those among us that don’t realize grabbing a baby by its ankles and swinging it against the bedroom wall like a baseball bat is an inappropriate form of punishment. Those people are out there, and they are not all “drugged up? at the time of the incident. Some are just that stupid.

I find myself wondering, “What have I gained from this knowledge?? Did I develop a more loathsome opinion of those that resort to violence against defenseless children rather than use basic coping skills I used to assume were innate characteristics of being human? Not really. That bar has been set pretty low for quite some time.

I wonder if the child had any awareness that it was in a vegetative state. I wonder if the child was sad about being in such a state or simply relieved to have been out of an abusive environment no matter what the conditions. I wonder these things, and others, but not for very long. The sad fact is that, no matter how in-depth my knowledge of this case may be, it is only a matter of time before it too slips away into the mental abyss of details of the hundreds of cases that came before it.


12 Responses to “”

  1. October 25, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    Well, you’re an excellent writer. I wish I could say more, but my brain is mush at the moment. Still, I couldn’t read this and click away without leaving some kind of token. I really appreciate your work on this blog.

  2. 2 megan
    October 25, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    My mom was a pediatric nurse, and once witnessed venereal warts on a 2-year-old. Because of practitioner/patient confidentiality, there is only so much that county employees are legally able or allowed to do, so all she could do is try and urge the mother through an interpreter to turn in the relative who was thought to have caused it. Fear is a great motivator, and sadly, it is unlikely that the mother ever reported the incident, and God only knows how long it continued, or if the mother ever did anything about it. I think that knowledge of such things, while painful and disgusting to the average person, makes medical workers of all positions better as medical workers. Distance is necessary, I would think, to be able to deal with such things in as clinical a way as possible, which is the ONLY way to be able to deal with these situations and not completely lose it; the closer and more human you get, the more difficult I can imagine it becomes. Not ever to say that all cases should not be treated with human dignity, but for your own sanity, the more you know about what sort of evil and despicable things humans can do to each other, the more able you are to deal with future cases. I don’t know if “better” is a good word, perhaps, in it’s small way, “stronger” is more appropriate.
    God knows, *I* sure as hell couldn’t do it.

  3. 3 Dawn
    October 26, 2005 at 12:07 am

    You know, nothing we learn in life, ever really leaves us…it contributes to the person we become.

    You made that poor baby’s death have a special meaning…when you shared it with us….now,we can all know that a child lived…suffered…and died…but that child will not be forgotten…..thanks to you.


  4. 5 Brenda
    October 26, 2005 at 10:58 am

    Child deaths are always the most difficult for me to deal with at the mortuary.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. October 26, 2005 at 5:17 pm

    Oh sheesh….yeah I agree with you….some things you just wish you’d never known. Ever.

  6. 7 Aussie
    October 27, 2005 at 7:09 am

    As a biotechnician, I seem to tell people stories they end up not wanting to hear…like the process of slaughtering a cow and extracting serum albumin, which ends up being in their designer face cream…if you listen closely your face starts to moo :p

    Ignorance is bliss I guess?

    I really like this site by the way.

    It seems a Coroner in the U.S. is a much different role to an Australian State Coroner.

  7. October 28, 2005 at 2:21 am

    Well, you’re an excellent writer. I wish I could say more, but my brain is mush at the moment. Still, I couldn’t read this and click away without leaving some kind of token. I really appreciate your work on this blog.


    Got a blog, Aussie?

  8. October 30, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    “watch them try and create a story out of the scant details that the police spokesperson has provided”… I was shocked the first time I heard a news story about a situation my police officer dh had given me a few details about. It was fairly ficticious on the part of the media.

    As far as that “inside info” you gain from the evil underbelly of life, I always felt that the saddest thing for a human being was to suffer that kind of pain and for no one to know or care. At least we have a chance to mourn them in some small way, to actually care and so confirm that it mattered to someone that something horrendous and unfair had happened to that person. Of course, this is likely part of why we bombed out so badly as pastors….burn out, you know.

  9. November 3, 2005 at 12:03 am

    Our son is in law enforcement and too often our own family is privy to a lot of information that’s not reported in the news as well. I agree, there’s some things that you really don’t want to know.

  10. 11 Terri
    January 11, 2006 at 11:47 am

    This is sad, and I do hope that the child felt no pain during the vegetative state. How very sad. I hope the parents were punished appropriately.

  11. 12 Brooke
    February 10, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    As a long-time critical care RN I can relate to the obvious intellectual/emotional evolution you’ve undergone over time as a result of dealing with the sometimes indescribable cruelties humans can inflict upon one another. Having always been a person that’s TOO sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, it has taken me what seems like a lifetime of ‘readjustment’ (to put it lightly) to learn the coping mechanisms needed to continue to work in my field. The most effective and important one for me has been a ‘warped’ sense of humor – usually shared by my colleagues (including a handful of coroners – LOL).

    Of course there are appropriate times and places for such and I have seen the ill effects of this particular method when accidentally overheard by grieving and/or upset family members; however, to date it has been the element that has saved me from creating a customized dent on a shrink’s couch (no offense intended) or a permanent position in the local nuthouse.

    I have just recently found your blog and have been fascinated and informed by the numerous entries I’ve read thus far. As has been said many times in the comments here – I feel you are very talented at not only writing, but also bringing a different and even educational perspective to one of the most mysterious (for lack of a better description) professions in our society. I hope you will continue to enlighten us. Best wishes to you and yours.

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