Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Coroners Case

One of the elements of working in nursing that I really treasured was the colorful cast of characters met along the journey. Whenever we had a death in the operating room (almost always a failed trauma) it was time to notify the Cook County Coroners office. In Chicago, even death was highly politicized. Deputy coroners were appointed based solely on political connections and lacked any credentials except for the fact they were close buddies with their ward alderman. They had as much scientific acumen as Bart and Homer Simpson.

Like Bart and Homer, they usually appeared on the scene in pairs and worked in concert. They all smoked cigars, wore trench coats, and sported  wide brimmed hats.  I think they were called fedoras. Another requirement for the position was a BMI of at least 30. I once observed one asking about the depth of a stab wound and then inserting his Pentel mechanical pencil into the wound to about 2/3 rds of its length and then casually replacing it in his pocket. They also possessed unique skill sets such as removing gold rings from edematous post mortem  fingers. The key to this was bracing yourself with a foot in the armpit and pulling on the ring with great strength. The ensuing argument between the deputies about who got the ring or the wristwatch could be very volatile.

There was the classic urban legend tale about the stockbroker that died at Union Station in downtown Chicago. When his wife opened the box to claim his personal effects it yielded a Chicago phone book and a Sunday edition of The Chicago Tribune. His wallet and valuables were no where to be found.

Deputy coroners always had a sense of humor. While checking out a corpse with massive head trauma, they discovered a tin of aspirin tablets in his pocket. "Look, he died of a headache"  one of the deputies exclaimed.

When the deputy coroners showed up for one of our operating room deaths they were always preoccupied with "leakage." They really hated getting any bloody drainage on any of the huge fancy  black bags they transported the body in. I used to keep a "leak plugging bag" in my locker that contained discarded sheets of Gelfoam that I scavenged from cases  and a sculutetus binder. Because their livers were cirrhotic, victims of bar fights frequently had wounds that bled out post mortem. My sure fire technique was to cut a sheet of Gelfoam to cover the wound, apply an. ABD  pad, and then the sculutetus binder. The deputy coroners thought I had supernatural hemostatic properties and they were always delighted to see me on duty. It made me think about launching a career in Chicago politics as I was beginning to cultivate connections. It is a good thing that siren call of the operating room kept me grounded in more honest employment. I think the guilt of some of those political shenanigans would have killed me long ago.

One thing.that was unique about Chicago was the openness of  corruption. Aldermen sold "Ad books" and if you purchased an ad ( The ads usually read: "The Husko Family supports Alderman Slippery) you then had a right to get complaints about city services or zoning promptly taken care of .
 I have lived in other cities that I think were just as bad as Chicago, but politicians always acted arrogant and above the misdeeds. In a twisted sort of way Chicago seemed more honest and trustworthy. You knew your standing.

Times change. The deputy coroners and their mischief have  been replaced by a medical examiner system.  Everything improves with the passage of time.

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