My name is Larry Jarvis, and I’m the newly elected President of the American Association of Medical Examiners (AAME). I’ve been a medical examiner for over thirty years, and in that time, I have noticed a growing and distressing trend.
There seems to be a sense, shared primarily among members of law enforcement, that medical examiners are unprofessional. While the AAME has some understanding of how this misconception has evolved, nothing could be further from the truth.
Here are the facts. Being a medical examiner is an extremely demanding job that requires us to spend long hours working in the morgue. Given the nature of the work, there is no set schedule; if a suspicious death occurs at 3 a.m., then that is when we are summoned to the “office” to examine the body and attempt to determine the cause of death. It is generally a thankless task, not to mention an occasionally exhausting one.
Given the long and unusual hours, it then follows that medical examiners seldom have the luxury of designated breaks for lunch or dinner; it is more often a “catch as catch can” scenario. Medical examiners also seldom have the opportunity to leave the morgue to purchase food, and as a result, many of us bring simple meals from home.
Bearing this information in mind, it should be no surprise that when detectives visit the morgue during the course of an investigation, they frequently find us eating large sandwiches while conducting an autopsy.
We get it; this may seem unprofessional, and may even seem to suggest to the viewer that our years of working with dead bodies have made us jaded in such a way that what would be disgusting to the average person is normal to us. However, it is simply a matter of practicality. Frequently, our time is so limited that when we need both hands free, we will even set our comically large sandwiches down on the examining table right next to the body of the deceased, or in some cases, even on top of the body.
We, the members of the AAME, wish to let the public know that our universal propensity for eating massive, Dagwood Bumstead-style sandwiches while conducting autopsies should not be taken as a lack of professionalism.
Indeed, we believe that the detectives who so often invade our morgues in the middle of autopsies are the ones behaving unprofessionally.
Did you know there’s such a thing as an “autopsy report?” It’s a report that we file once the autopsy is concluded. It has all of our findings neatly laid out. Why, then, is it that grizzled detectives and FBI agents so often feel the need to barge into the morgue while we’re in the middle of the autopsy and trying to eat dinner? Just because a serial killer is on the loose or an X-File is occurring, that does not entitle you to interrupt our work.
Worse still is when the grizzled detective brings a green, wet-behind-the-ears detective with him, who usually takes one look at us eating our sandwiches and makes a comical expression of disgust, and then steps outside to be sick. How do you think that makes us feel? Again, all of this could be prevented if people were simply willing to wait for our reports, which are consistently filed in a timely fashion.
At the very least, we ask that when a pair of detectives enter our morgue, they refrain from finishing each other’s sentences and then cracking a joke at the end. If a man has had the misfortune to be decapitated, it’s simply disrespectful to have some slick detective say that he “quit while he was ahead.” Frankly, it’s enough to make me choke on my sandwich.