Forensic Anthropology Internship Series : Prelude

I was so grateful that I got a chance to intern in the most adorable medical examination office in Miam-Dade this summer, met so many minds alike. I decided to share my journey on this blog in 8-9 episodes. The episodes will include daily routines in the office, some interactions with experts, as well as some personal thoughts (of course).

Those all wearing scrubs are my internship buddies 🙂

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Prelude

Miami-Dade Medical Examination office is one of the most ideal medical examination facilities in the States, or even the world (I guess). Some of the experts came just to learn about the design and the architecture of the facility in order to rebuild something similar in their own place. One thing that the facility was known for is the sense of warmth it gives to the mourning families. Dr. Joseph Davis, the founder of this facility knows that the families are all already very heart broken whenever they come into this building (i guess no one will come to the M.E. department for fun ?), he created a lounge area immediately next to the entrance. Also, the offices and the lounge area is separated with a locked door, which is a symbolic act of letting the family focus on the mourning, grieving and frying, while the officers behind can focus on helping them and doing their own job.

Most of the time in the internship, we spent time in the bone room located in the decomp area. There are two autopsy facilities, with one is specialized for decomposition bodies, and the other is for “fresh” body. Other than that, there is also a room especially for organ or body part removal for donation. Bodies that are suitable for doing so will firstly entered this place before going for an autopsy. 

First day of the internship is already such an eye-opener. I was trying to prepare my mindset for forensics and autopsy (the odor!) before the coming of today. The concept of “seriously rotted eggs” is kind of abstract to me. My roommate hinted me about one movie- Forensics on Trial. It is a documentary criticizing Forensics that might not be as accurate as we thought. It reminds me that Forensics can be as faulty.

Little did I know, Dr. Richard Souviron today did address this today.

Dr. Souviron is really a great person and expert. (He has testified in the Ted Bundy case too!) He makes forensics odontology so much fun. As he touched on in the lecture, forensics odontology is not just the matching of patterns, which is the common critiques on bitemarks analysis in forensics odontology. The theory behind is based on the different components of bones and teeth of each individual.

Oh! About the odor of the autopsy. One of the objectives for me to come to this internship is about the odor. The process of opening up the body does not bother me at all, but the odor could be what really gets me. Since I have never contacted with a dead body under this degree of intimacy, and being a forensic scientists/anthropologist, getting used to the odor of a dead body is really crucial for the profession, thus I am hoping through this internship to know how much I can take. If I got fainted when first got into the autopsy room, forensics in the morgue may not be a choice for me.

Dr. Tanya Peckmann restating we can always leave the autopsy if we really cannot stand the smell. That did really make my heart skip a beat! Yet, when I walked into the room, it was not that bad. I do not know if it is because we did not witness the autopsy today officially, or the ventilation in the lab was really great, or I have prepared for the worst, it happens to be the exact same odor of the wet market we have back in Hong Kong (especially those Bucher stalls). When we were using the volunteer body on learning bitemarks, the place I stand was indeed right behind the body bag, and the part of the bag that close to me is indeed opened. I could basically “sneak peek” the body (not that I did), and that is when I could smell the “rotted egg” essence.

Myth cracking #1: Like CSI, relatives or family members do come to the morgue before or after the autopsy for positive identification?

A: Not in normal circumstances. Unless the families request for specific religious ritual, or any other special requests granted by the pathologists, normally are the death investigators meet the family in the office, or lounge area with a photo for identification.

Further information:

Ted Bundy- the Final Bitemark

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