Archive for the 'FAQ' Category


“Mind Over Brain Matter”

Here’s my response to the second question from Heidi at

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…


“Choosing Death”

The following comment was submitted by Heidi at

Thank you for sharing, but mostly, thank you for doing what you do.
I’d be interested in hearing why you chose this line of work and how long it took you to get used to it. After all, many end up in banks, sales, or sanitation because it’s “a job.” But a line of work like yours requires extensive training and forethought. I’d love to hear more.

Here’s my response to her first question:

Q: Why did you choose this line of work?

A: I get asked this question a lot, so I already have an answer for you. The details are slightly more interesting than simply saying “It just happened? and hopefully not nearly as cheesy as saying “I didn’t choose it, it chose me.?

I wasn’t happy with where I landed as a result of my first degree, so I decided to go back to school. At the time, I was pretty hooked on the Discovery and Learning Channel shows on forensics, plus I had a general interest in the subject that goes back to my childhood. When I was in 4th or 5th grade, I recall checking out books from the library on unsolved crimes from the early 20th century while everyone else was content with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I was also a big fan of Quincy during the late 70’s and early 80’s.

When it came to selecting a major, I looked through the university catalog page by page. As I went through it, I noticed a page had been torn from the book. Curiosity compelled me to look in the index to find out which major was missing, and it was there that I saw the words “Forensic Science.?

Studying forensics seemed the most logical choice because it was the only field that interested me. After obtaining my degree, I decided to apply to the state medical examiner’s office as a pathology assistant. As it turned out, they decided to hire me as an investigator instead because they were about to lose one to retirement.

I never specifically aspired to examine dead bodies for a living, but I often wondered what it would be like and whether or not I would be able to handle doing that sort of thing. Every once in a while I like to think back and try to remember the time when I didn’t know the answer to either of those questions.

Click here for response to her second question.


“Spontaneous Defecation”

Q: Is it true that a person spontaneously urinates or defecates when they die?

A: The short answer is no. The longer answer is that it does happen but not in every death. On average, only about one person in ten has urinated or defecated prior to death. Urination can occur simply because there is enough time for the body to relax enough to urinate before it shuts down. This elimination isn’t necessarily indicative of a full bladder. Someone who has drank heavily and has been passed out for several hours prior to death may in fact have several hundred cubic centimeters of urine built up in their bladder (this amount is often documented at autopsy).

Defecation may not occur until after the death has occurred—although the process of elimination isn’t a voluntary movement on the part of the deceased. Moving a body around while examining it or attempting to remove it from a scene can cause fecal matter to exude from the individual. In this respect, the human body acts similarly to a tube of toothpaste as the bowels are compressed.

As a side note, gas that has built up in the bowels is also eliminated as the body is moved or examined. This elimination typically occurs without an audible sound, but I have heard some with this expected accompaniment. For description sake, the degree of smell ranges from “dirty diaper? to “you should see a doctor about your ass? to “who would do that in a public restroom.?