When the Bodies Start Piling Up


I wrote this post about two months ago, but I had a really difficult call yesterday, so it seems appropriate to post it now.

Volunteering for Victim Services is really rewarding, but it’s also really hard.

I’ve written about some of the difficult calls before. However, I think the real struggle is that in recent months, I’ve been on two child death calls, a death notification where a young guy was hit and killed by a train, two drug overdoses – one of which was likely a suicide, one DOA with a lot of HIV positive blood throughout the house, two strangulations, at least four calls where the victim had visible, gruesome wounds, and a death notification for a hiker from out of town.

The bodies start to weigh you down.

Add to that the fact that I work for a hospice and have to do death notifications to volunteers on a near-daily basis, and the pressure I was under studying for the LSAT… and it’s a perfect storm of sadness and stress.

I’m not gonna lie. I started feeling pretty messed up after the hiker death notification. He and his family were from out of town, and were in Tucson because they were attending a funeral. And he died. 150 yds from his vehicle. We did the notification for his wife, who was trying so hard to be kind to everyone in the room, but she was clearly in shock. She repeated the same questions over and over again. She kept blowing her nose into a bandanna, and she was trying to take care of everyone around her. There were seven other family members there, and we worked briefly with all of them.

I went home and honestly just couldn’t get back into my life. Before we left, the deceased’s wife said to me, “God is good.”

That’s such a difficult thing to say even in the best of circumstances, because life is horrible and unrelenting. This temporary home of ours really, truly sucks. But within an hour of being told that she’s never going to have another conversation with her husband… never going to hold his hand, argue, or laugh with him again. Within the hour, she said, “God is good.”

And as weird as it is, the fact that she said that effed me up a little bit.

I got up the next morning and listened to a sermon while making breakfast, and, of course, the pastor talked about the story behind the song that says, “It is well with my soul.” It’s a great story, and you should look it up if you haven’t heard about it before… and yet, even having known the story for years, it was as if God was chasing me around with the peace Christians are supposed to feel no matter what. No matter who or what God takes from us, we are supposed to say, “God is good,” and, “It is well with my soul.”

It wasn’t well with my soul.

I could feel the weight of every dead body from the past few months. They were all laying on my chest, restricting the flow of oxygen to my brain.

So what did I do?

I went for a run. Then I went for a walk. Then I drank some wine. Then I did some yoga. Then I wrote. Then, I decided to hell with all of the things nobody would judge me for doing as coping mechanisms… I turned off all of the lights in the house, made a spread for myself on the floor, and pulled out my VHS tape of THE PATRIOT. I popped it in my tape player and spent three straight hours sobbing.

Then I brushed my teeth and went to bed.

Such is the way to set aside the dead bodies and pick up the peace of Christ. God is good. I genuinely hate this place where we live, but God is good.

UPDATE: Yesterday’s call hasn’t sunk into me yet. I know it will. I know it will haunt me for the next few weeks, until it’s replaced with another haunting call.

Yesterday’s call started just before 5:30 am, and didn’t end until 7 pm or so. Then, there was paperwork to do, and I had to return my radio and phone to our office, so I was away from home for something like 16 hours, going non-stop.

During the call, I wasn’t able to eat at all or have any break. Also, because our shift wasn’t supposed to start until 6:00, I hadn’t eaten breakfast or showered or anything. I had gotten up and gone.

The call spanned two different hospitals, a crime scene, and a home. I interacted with tons of people, ranging from the victim and people directly or indirectly related to the crime, hospital staff and people directly or indirectly related to the patient’s medical care, and even a few people at Southwest Airlines. We transported people from a hospital to the crime scene and back, from one hospital to another, and from the second hospital to a home.

Our victim was really, really visibly wounded, which is always difficult to see. She had visible wounds all over her body, and her face was swollen into a misshapen, bruised mess. And she was SUCH a nice girl. Under different circumstances, I could see myself being friends with her. She is nerdy and artsy. She loves steampunk and movies. She hasn’t given up on her dreams yet, like so many people have. She is an extraordinary person, who doesn’t deserve what happened to her – no victim does.

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Labor Day Weekend


This has been an excellent weekend so far. Mostly, that’s because I’ve remembered how to sleep the day away.

This weekend started for me with my first strangulation call. The call came in at 0100, and it was a request for my partner and me to relieve the unit before us, who had been on the call already for about six hours. Strangulations can be like that because they require a forensic nurse, and forensic nurses don’t just hang out at the ER. They aren’t the most common of nurses, and they sometimes have other things they have to do, so we were looking at the nurse being available around 1000. One of the primary reasons this sucks is because if a victim leaves the hospital and comes back when the nurse is available, there’s a decent likelihood that she’s going to be charged for 2 different ER visits.

In addition to the normal frustrations that come with having to wait 19 hours (and probably more, because there was also a sexual assault at the hospital waiting to be seen by the forensic nurse)… in addition to the frustration of waiting for 19+ hours, our victim hadn’t eaten, had been dragged through a wash without being able to shower, had an enormous bulge on her forehead where she’d been hit in the face with a gun, was bruised and scratched all over, and she needed to be ready to move into a shelter if the judge released the guy that morning or if someone paid his bond and he got out. Additionally, our victim had been regularly branded in private areas, so I’m sure she had some pain that she wasn’t even talking about.

When we got there, our victim and the other two advocates were all slouched into uncomfy waiting room chairs. They looked exhausted. Luckily, my partner was actually a staff advocate and thus knows how to get things for people, so she managed to get us into the quiet room (it’s a special room usually reserved for sexual assault victims, although I’ve also seen it used for families there for child death cases). My partner sent me to get food for our victim. The hospital actually has a fridge with food boxes in it that can be given to victims for free. We went ahead and filled out some paperwork to try to get $ for our victim to help pay for medical bills, travel expenses to and from court, and counseling.

Our victim was really talkative, but she was all about joking. She was laughing and saying silly things. She was glad that my partner and I both have some fat on us, because the advocates we’d relieved were both skinny. It’s the first time I’ve been with a victim who wanted to make light of everything. She said the other two advocates were too serious and she was glad we could laugh with her.

After about an hour and a half, our victim was finally given a bed, and they hooked her up to some monitors and gave her a hospital gown. A couple of hours later, we left her, hoping she’d rest. That was about 4:30 am.

I went home and slept for an hour or so, then I had to return my gear so the next shift could have it, and I will almost certainly never find out what happened to our victim. She may go back to her guy. She may move out of state. She may go back to using drugs. She may go to college. She may find a great guy to marry her and help her take care of her daughter. Her guy may be released with no bond, and he may kill her. Believe it or not, that’s not an unlikely outcome. This victim had a higher lethality risk than any I’ve seen. We always do a lethality assessment with intimate partner domestic violence victims. Victim advocacy requires a comfort with not knowing the outcome.

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And then, I went home and slept. I slept off and on until 4:00 pm. It was glorious. I almost never have time to sleep after shifts like that.

Then, I got up, watched a series of lectures on Hitler, walked Moose, went for a run, ate dinner… and then I watched The Mighty Ducks and D2: The Mighty Ducks. It was a really nice recovery from the night before.

Now, I’m drinking coffee and writing. I’m loving that the air smells like Fall, even though it’s still 100 degrees out, and even though there are some terrible things that happen in this world, and in all likelihood, there are terrible things happening to someone in my city right now, I’m having a good weekend.