Archive for Death call

EPISODE 15 — The Hoarder (Part I)

Posted in Death with tags , , , on June 17, 2013 by Morguie


It was close to the end of the business day, mid- summer. The sun was deceptively high still in the western sky when the phone rang. A death call over in a little mining town about forty miles away. Mr. Becker served a wide area, but was also a designated first call liaison for all of the regional coroner‘s offices in the tri-county area. A coroner call could be an unattended death at home (no doctor’s care of the person in the past 21 days, usually), a traffic fatality, a suicide or homicide, or any cause of death which requires an investigation. 

It seems a neighbor decided to call the sheriff, who found the deceased, after she hadn’t noticed her for a couple of days. The neighbor knew the lady lived alone and became concerned at the lack of activity normal for the house. Papers, two of them, and the mail had not been collected, as well.

We got very few details, but since it was in the next county, we assumed it was a possible coroner’s case. We would know once we arrived and assessed the situation and got the sheriff’s information. This was going to be a very new adventure for myself. A coroner’s case? Sounded serious…I noticed CJ was anything but thrilled about this. Not to say she was EVER thrilled to attend to a death call. However, she seemed less like her usual self, not happy-looking in the least. I wondered why…of course I planned to tag along on this one; soon I would know why.

The sun was beginning to sink to the horizon when we arrived at the house.  Bill and CJ got out of the van and approached the deputy standing in the yard. The deputy gave the information about the deceased to CJ, who busily scrawled it onto a first call sheet. The woman, Mrs. Santini,  had no children. She was estranged from her husband, who lived somewhere on the east coast. Once the deputy gave her what he had, CJ and Bill went to pull the gurney out. The deputy said something about leaving the cot on the porch, there was no way he could see that it would be workable to take it inside the house. CJ and Bill exchanged puzzled glances. The deputy hesitated, obviously not wanting to go back inside the house to show CJ and Bill where the lady was. He said he’d called the fire department and notified the coroner investigator, both would be along shortly. He had to go; he said he had another call to attend to. Just like that, the sheriff’s car pealed from the driveway, the deputy was gone. Hmm, I thought. Why was he acting so strangely? Sure as heck wasn’t forthcoming about why the gurney wouldn’t work in the house…odd. The gurney nearly ALWAYS works in the houses; the exceptions were trailers or upstairs apartments without lifts. This was a good-sized house, complete with a large, albeit cluttered veranda.goat

I was thinking about popping out of my place down in CJ’s jacket pocket, just to get a look around inside. What could be the big deal here? I didn’t need to, it turned out. Just then the big fire truck pulled up out front, on the street . One of the firefighters asked CJ about what they needed to do to help. Bill and CJ had not been into the house, so the two men grabbed axes and followed them into the home. I could see it was very dark. I climbed up to the top of the pocket to see. We were scarcely a few short paces inside the front door when we stopped. The firemen flipped on their flashlights, advising CJ and Bill to wait right there.

What I saw was the most incredible sight! The entire room, stacked to within mere inches from the ceiling, was a massive pile of books, newspapers, household items—a narrow footpath led through the tunnel-like walls of stuff on either side. Another footpath led around the other way, to an old shabby recliner, and then wound beyond into another room. The entire place was solidly filled to the brim with trash and assorted items, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling! The firemen were making slow progress on the path ahead. Just then, a petrified orange rolled off the pile, tripping CJ, who didn’t have far to fall. “Bill! Help me! Please! I don’t want to see where I am falling to!” Bill quickly obliged, catching her forearm, while she attempted to steady herself into an upright stance. The massive avalanche of stuff that came down around them next made her scream. “Oh God! What the hell is crawling on my face?!”  Bill knocked a huge cockroach off!


I hunkered down in the pocket. This was no time to feel adventurous or even the slightest bit curious! No way did I want to have one of those creatures near me! EEEEK! Staying in my nest was suddenly a much safer option that I should have taken. Nosy, nosy ME! Why can’t I figure out when to mind my own business? This would be my lesson for the next house call. However, I was here now. In it for the duration…ugh!  There was an odor here, now becoming stronger; I hated my nose! My nose, my best sensory organ after my ears, was picking up the sickly sweet smell of…WHERE WAS THE DEAD BODY?

To be continued in “The Hoarder, Part II…


©2013, C.S. Thompson.

Episode 10 — Adams Street Revisited

Posted in Death, Grief, Loss, Mortuary with tags , , on June 3, 2013 by Morguie

Angel of Compassion

       The phone rang at the mortuary mid-afternoon on a brisk autumn day. A house call. Another death at home. I slipped into my usual place, CJ’s jacket pocket. Sometimes  house calls can be a bit dramatic and when CJ feels she might begin to get caught up in the emotions of the situation, I am there, and she holds onto me to shift her focus away as needed.  Besides, I am much softer to touch than a ball of wadded Kleenex.

We start for the home, which is here in town. Bill is CJ’s house-call partner. There must always be two people handling house calls. That is a cardinal rule here. Just as the van rounds the corner of  Adams Street where the call is at, CJ noted aloud, “Hey…wait a minute. Is this house number correct? We were just here a couple of months ago…”  Bill replied, ”It is the Downey residence.” CJ’s brow bunched at hearing that. “Oh no!  This is terrible…poor Mrs. Downey. My God, how are we going to handle this, Bill? It must be awful for her.”

We pulled up to the edge of the curb, backing the van into the driveway. Together, CJ and Bill went to the front door of the modest little house. A thin older woman opened the door and welcomed them inside. Bill cleared his throat and asked which room they would need to go to. The woman motioned to the end of the hallway. The woman beckoned CJ to be seated there on the sofa. The poor woman had been through this drill before. This was the third time in a little more than a year. It would be the last time, also. I could sense a tightening in CJ’s frame. This was very sad, indeed. You see, Mrs. Downey’s husband and two sons all had been ill with Huntington’s disease. It is a sure death sentence, that disease.  When she married Mr. Downey, some forty-odd years earlier, not much was known about Huntington’s. It was known that it was an inherited disease. The cruelest part was in not knowing whether her husband carried the gene. There was no such thing as pre-natal testing for the unborn. The disease was on his side; some of his family had succumbed to it. If he had inherited the gene, there was no way to know until he began to show signs and symptoms, which did eventually present in his early 50’s. By that time, the boys were in their mid-twenties. They appeared healthy. This would not be the case later for both of the sons. Signs had appeared in them before they hit 30.

One by one, first with the father, then with the sons. Each progressively lost their ability to ambulate, think, talk, or take care of themselves. It is indeed an awful course progression, in which the brain degenerates, thus taking the body with it until death is inevitable. Now, the last son had passed away.

The mother was a dedicated woman; she cared for each of them at home, at their various stages of this killer disease. She looked worn and very tired. Too tired to cry at this moment. CJ struggled to find the words she could say that would be of any comfort. What do you say to someone who has lost her entire immediate family? Instead, she awkwardly reached out to the lady to give her a hug. No more was said. CJ went out to the van with Bill, and they returned with the gurney, went down the hall, and carefully placed the man onto it. He was so ravaged he scarcely made a lump beneath the blanket.

They paused to walk away, giving Mrs. Downey a moment to kiss him goodbye for the last time. Then as they rolled him out the front entryway, a tear began to roll down her cheek. CJ’s hand tightened gently around me, remaining there until she was back in the van.

No one spoke during the short ride back to the mortuary. It was just too hard to find words.IMG_0001

Episode 6 – The Poker Game

Posted in Death, Funeral home, Grief, Loss with tags , on May 20, 2013 by Morguie

playingcardsToday I decided to hang out with CJ. I am not usually permitted to do this as she is always busy doing her work around this place. Mr. B sends her out on road trips a lot, too. She said as long as I was out of sight, she didn’t mind today. We started our day, ordering embalming supplies and doing a casket inventory. The latter part of the day was spent in the casket showroom, dusting and cleaning the various models there. Mr. B likes to keep the lids closed until a family comes in, due to the dust. He doesn’t want the linings and fluffy pillows to get dirty. I skipped along the tops of them as she moved from one to another cleaning them. We were going to have an appointment the next morning so she opened each to unfurl the draping, fluff the pillows, and tidy them for the selection process. I slipped off  an emerald green lid with very shiny gold trim and plopped right onto the thick comfy velour pillow. Ahh! Very nice! I filed that into memory…in case I needed some winter nesting stuff.

CJ shot me a panicked look as Mr. Becker entered the room. “CJ, we just got a house call. Go get ready and pull the van out. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.” With that, CJ scooped me out of the bottom of the green casket and put me into her smock pocket. We made our way down to the prep-room office where she removed the smock and put on her ‘house call’ jacket. I leapt into her purse, and hid there.

Mr. B always had CJ drive to the calls. He did not always accompany her, but he told her ‘Joe’ was a long-time friend of his. We drove for a while, and then pulled into a long driveway made of gravel, which continued up a hill to the house. Mr. B got out and went to the door while CJ waited in the van. A few minutes later, he returned and the two of them removed the ‘cot’ or gurney, then they went up to the door together. CJ didn’t know I was in her jacket pocket now. However, I just had to know what went on at these house calls. When we entered the house, it was dimly lit. There was a group of men seated at the kitchen table, playing cards. One of the men got up, went to a cabinet, and came back to the table with five shot glasses and a bottle of whiskey. He filled the glasses, and set one out for each of the men at the table, and handed one to Mr. B. The man raised his glass in a toast and the others joined him, all except for one. YIKES!300px-Small_shotglass

“To you, Pa!”    “Here, here!” chimed the men, before tipping back the glasses and emptying them. “Dad sure loved a good game of poker. And, he always knew when to fold.” With that, Mr. B and the sons carefully removed Joe from the chair he’d been seated in, wrapped him in a sheet, and lifted him to the cot. We slowly and somberly rolled Joe out of the house. I could hear one of the men say “Goodnight, Pa.” Then the door closed quietly behind us.

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