Day at the Morgue

Posted by David Prince on August 28, 2004 at 12:50:23:

As my typical day begins in the county morgue as the city's Medical Examiner I
wish my council members would at least try to understand the complexities and science
of my responsibilities.

I read the entry chart of the young woman who was brought in a couple of hours ago.
It is suspected that she is another of a local serial murderer-rapist who preys on the
exotic dancers that perform at our gentleman's clubs. It has the city in an uproar with
few clues and an incompetant police chief.

Unfortunately for me, this woman must have been killed 3 or 4 days ago.

I sigh and carefully remove the sheet to begin my examination and autopsy.

The neck muscles become rigid first and the head can only be moved with great difficulty
to the left or the right, foward or backard. Once the rigor is broken it will not return.
It is very difficult to undress a dead woman in rigor.

Once full rigor is achieved the corpse becomes extremely rigid, so rigid that you would
not be able to open the mouth without first breaking the jaw. A corpse in full rigor could be
stood and leaned against a wall as a timber of lumber.

When rigor mortis sets in on a dead woman it starts at the head and neck and travels downward.
The time in which it takes for rigor to begin varies mostly with temperature. Heat causes it to
speed up. Cold slows it down. Vigorous activity, such as struggling or running, just before death
causes rigor to speed up due to the accelerated breakdown of sugars in the muscles.
In death the feet flex downwards, as if the female is standing on tippy toes. The eyelids may be
open or partly open, but are sometimes closed.

Large bottle flies are a terrible problem and they bite. I have a dozen of those UV bug
zappers and they still don't stop all of them.

The insects that infest dead females are rather repulsive. The dead body emits an
undetectable odor (by humans), but flies are attracted immediately and head for the mucosa
(whites of the eyes), nostrils, mouth and the vagina. The initial stage of larva look like
specs of small wet grains of rice. When the maggots come, they come in force. Superglue,
especially the gel type, is now a staple of the mortuary industry, along with autopsy gel.
Superglue was initially developed to glue human tissues. The rigidity from rigor mortis, when fully
developed is phenomenal. A man could not force himself into the anus of a woman in rigor under any
circumstances, and I doubt if he could force a finger in there either. The vagina could be forced.
If the body is embalmed the fluid "sets" the body in position, similar to rigor. Dead females smell
like dead animals in the woods or if you leave a piece of store bought steak in a covered bucket
in the yard for a couple days you would get a similar smell. There is an old wives tale
that humans have a special smell that cadaver dogs look for. It is a police myth.
There is no difference in odor between the various animals, with the exception that fur
bearing animals have, because of the distinctive "rafts" of the musk and oil glands in the fur.
The first sign of decomposition in an unembalmed female is usually a greenish discoloration on the
abdoman to the side of the belly button. For the first few hours after death the anal sphincter and
the vagina muscles relax. There are actually two muscular rings. One at the anus and another quite a
ways in that allows feces to enter the lower bowel. If a dead female had a full bladder and you put
a finger in the vagina and another on the pudenta, or the area where the pubic hair is
and massage the urine will come out.

The maggot problem on a female corpse is enough to discourage close contact. Flies
smell a dead body from a half mile away. For non-autopsy corpses (i.e., no police interest or
sexual assualt). The first thing done is to apply insectiside to the vaginal area.
I use Ronnel (Korlan), Dimethoate, Fenthion (Baytor), Permethrun, Rabon (mixed 1/2 pound in three
gallons of water). Toilet paper soaked in this insecticide is stuffed into the vagina. The clitoris
and surrounding area is thoroughly sprayed with poisonous insecticide. If possible, I try to spray
the interior of the mouth. The whites of the eyes are swabbed with an insecticide-soaked q-tip.
The dead female is then "tied". This is usually done with gauze bandage. I generally use four ties.
The wrists tied together over the chest, the ankles, above the knees and the jaw shut.
Sometimes I use duct tape, wrapping the tape around the head and lips, and up around the head to hold
the jaw shut. Tape tends to stick to the hair, though. Sometimes, I use old nylon stockings.
Then we put a small plastic bag over the head and tie it loosely with string. The idea is to prevent
flies from laying eggs in the mouth. To prevent purge I use a dowel to stuff a piece of cloth down
the trachea and down the esophagus. If there is sexual assault or police interest (as in this case)
rape smears need to be taken. Once the maggots have passed the larval stage, they are almost
impervious to insecticide and need to be killed by squishing them. This does not happen very often,
but I hate that the most about this job.

When the corpse is to go to a funeral home I sometimes do preparation for them for a nominal fee.
Waste rags are stuffed into the anus and the vagina and are sewed up tightly to prevent purge and
autopsy gell is used. A rag is stuffed down the throat with a wooden dowel for the same purpose and
cotton inserted into the nasal passageways. If autopsied the internal organs are removed and you can
put one finger into an autopsied woman's anus and another into the vagina and touch the fingers
together inside. If requested, the internal organs and brain are returned with the body, otherwise, this
material is incinerated due to infection considerations. The interior of the corpse is filled
with what is essentiually trash; old hospital blankets, rags, crumpled up newspapers placed in a
plastic bag. In hot weather a female corpse will rot quickly and I would be hard-pressed to tell if
it was male or female. During autopsy the vagina and the uterus are removed from the opening in the
chest cavity and the vagina is slit with a scissors for examination. In men, the testicals are
popped from the scrotum and slit. Before burial, I use "plastic pants" with elastic cuffs on females.
These are taped around both thighs with duct tape and around the waist. This is to prevent maggots
from emergeing from the vagina and rectum during the funeral. These pants are usually translucent
and sometimes you can see maggots wiggling underneath. I usually use screw-type white plastic plugs
to put in holes caused by trochars. I shove the trochars into the vagina and the anus to dispose of them
(The trochar is a hollow, sharpened, beveled stainless steel tube with another tube inside. The
long tube has a handle and used to penetrate depp into the abdoman to pump in water and suction it back out.
Also, these are used to remove feces from the intestines. Afterwards, I slit the females abdomen,
remove the viscera and internal organs and incinerate them.

Ah, I hear the twelve o'clock buzzing from my watch. With this corpse properly fumigated, eviscerated
and stuffed I can unguiltily clean up and leave for an hour to eat my tuna fish sandwich and chips while
I observe the squirrels chitter and scatter about.