Saturday, 30 June 2007

I See Dead People

One of the things I get asked about a lot by people who are sensible enough to have a job where they sleep at night, is dead people and deaths. "Sudden Deaths" as it is known in the trade. I'm usually asked these questions after someone has had their fill of beer and gets curious about bodily details.To the people that ask for a little too much detail, I always offer them a visit to watch a Post Mortem, something I've done more than once and find fascinating.

They always decline the offer.

We call them "Sudden Deaths," which makes it sound glamorous, as far as death can be. And yes, we deal with murders, and suicides, and road accidents and all manner of interesting ways that life ends. But the vast majority of Sudden Deaths that I come across are in homes, elderly people, very ill people, chronic alcoholics. Not glamorous, and most aren't suspicious. However, police are required to attend nearly every death outside a hospital or medical care facility, to check for suspicious circumstances.

In some cases this is easy - if there is a bloodied knife fifteen feet away from the body covered in stab wounds, I'll be thinking it's suspicious.

The problem is we are not medical experts by any definition. We can not pronounce a person dead (hence our notes always read "the apparently lifeless body"), and we can't diagnose diseases, infections and poisoning pre or post death. Again, this is when the wonderful London Ambulance Service come into play. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou boys and girls for pointing out things that we have no idea about or miss on our very cursory inspection of the body.

I don't like the goryness, no one does, but I can cope with it. The smell is pretty appalling, but again I can usually cope, and keep a pack of airwaves chewing gum on me to mask the smell. The strange thing is that I can not stand on-screen blood and gore, and get squeamish watching Holby City or similar. Yet I've checked rotting bodies for ID, attempted resus on an 18 month old baby, sat next to a very dead old man for two hours on his only sofa whilst waiting for undertakers to attend to remove him, checked toddlers and children who have died, and fought with bleeding vomiting messy drunken injured people in A&E whilst hospital staff fiddle and stick various implements in them. Show me an episode of ER and I'll feel faint and sick. I can't work that one out at all.

Of course, the really hard bit is dealing with families. As many other bloggers have mentioned, technically I have failed as a Police Officer if I spend five hours with a newly widowed woman and her children trying to help and comfort them. No detections, no arrests, only one call resulted. But conversely, I think that is when I justify my salary, not stopping middle class students for smoking cannabis in the park on summer's evenings.

These experiences are usually massively draining to officers who deal with them. They are also a huge source of letters of good work in your file. That is obviously the last thing in your mind at a scene, but so many officers have more than one pat on the back sitting in their personal files after dealing with a bereaved family.

I find this more upsetting than anything else, and amazingly humbling; people who have gone through the worst pain possible, who have had their lives shattered by the appearance of a person wearing the blue serge then take the time to write a letter, or visit the police station, or phone a senior officer to thank us for what we've done. It is something that I am still unprepared for every time, and something that I just can not get my head around. It's also something that makes me particularly proud of the job I do, and of the officers I work with. Training can NOT teach you to do this, it is a time when what you need is humanity. After spending a huge amount of time in every shift having to keep a lid on their feelings and trying to be emotionless, impassive observers, Police Officers have to step up and then truly care for someone in a difficult situation - and they do it.

19 comments:

Hugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hugh said...

a moving piece

aha humanity - sadly this can't be counted by the bean counters, who know the cost of everything and the value of foxtrot alpha

Gazza said...

Outstanding posts mate.
Seems there's quite a few of us out there now.
Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

You sound as though you have been around the block once or twice which means that chances are you will know by now that the police service tends to go full cycle every 30 years or so, and what once was, will be again. The time will come again where compassion, common sense, integrity and justice will prevail, and sanctioned detections, tally sheets and statistics will receed. You and I will be more comforable then, and shortly to retire!

retiredpolis said...

great work. keep it up!

Whichendbites said...

I've written about death on my blog, as have several other of us.
Oh yes, I've smelt death before. From fresh, wet, crumpled and red to old, stale, stiff and musty. But never, ever, quite like this.
Its out there an dno-one ever tells you what its like, I mean what its really like. But we learn.

Thanks for your link, I will return the compliment.

Mary said...

A very kind and compassionate police officer came to our house to tell me my mother had been found dead. He certainly earned his wages that day, it can't have been easy for him.

Nicholas Hough said...

hugh, even if they could quantify humanity, they'd probably only tax us on it...

"Apparently lifeless body"?! I see the Political Correctness brigade have been getting the boot in...

Regards
Nick
http://nickhough.blogspot.com

Metcountymounty said...

another cracking post, personally, I'm not the biggest fan of dealing with dead people, a bit too close to home on a couple i've had, but as you said it all just becomes 'routine' and you just get through it. I nearly yacked the other night watching a chest surgery on Greys Anatomy, and yet I've been covered in claret dealing with fatacs and sucking chest wounds. odd.

TSGPS said...

The other point you may not be aware is that your actions have a huge impact on the people in these unfortunate circumstances. I'm good with faces but after a two/three year gap I went to pay for some goods whilst off duty. " Your PC ..... said the retailer you dealt with the death of my dad..I was astounded he recognised me and humbled with his praise.
Keep up the the excellent blogs..Nice to have a Met based read.

Katharine said...

I have a friend who is an ex PC (now working in child protection) - first time she had to tell someone their relative was deceased she filled up (and no more than that). Dealt a telling off on return to station for lack of professionalism - cue letter of thanks a couple of weeks later from family thanking her for her "obvious compassion".

You guys can't win. Keep up the good work.

"gunner" said...

i'll mention the local police officer who was detailed to notify my wife and i of her mother's death, in another town a hundred odd miles away a few years ago. it's not the easiest job in police work but he was as considerate as could be, saying "if there was anything he could do to help..." and meant it. we've got a good bunch of people in our police department and they deserve, and get, my respect.

Trooper said...

Lovely blogging. The job you do and how you do it means a lot to us normals. Keep it up :)
Maybe you can cope with crime scenes and not ER because of adrenaline. It does odd things to people, so that may be the reason.

Anonymous said...

I always offerCheap Diablo 3 Gold them a visit to watch a Post Mortem, something I've done more thanBuy Runescape Gold once and find fascinating.

Anonymous said...

What's up to every , because I am genuinely keen of reading this webpage's post to be updated regularly.
It contains nice material.

Here is my blog post - clear

Anonymous said...

Hi there i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere,
when i read this article i thought i could also create comment due to this good post.


Feel free to visit my web site clear

Anonymous said...

I will immediately clutch your rss feed as
I can't find your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service. Do you've any?
Kindly let me realize in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.


my blog: clear

Anonymous said...

I'm now not sure the place you are getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time studying much more or working out more. Thank you for magnificent info I was in search of this information for my mission.

Feel free to visit my webpage clear

Darwin Billerbeck said...

Your article is very exciting, this is what I want
---------------------------------------------

Rs Gold
Rs 3 Gold
Buy Rs Gold