Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Secret life

So here I am in the middle of a council housing estate with the cold winter wind eating through my goretex. I sheepishly walk up the stairs having heard a shout from above "She's dead - call LAS". I walk up to a cheap green door thats been split in half and I can see familiar round damage marks near where the lock used to be. This is an unexpected development - a welfare check for a mid-thirties lady doesn't usually prepare you for a dead body.

The officers already on scene ask "Have you done one of these before?" I nod, but I'm lying, I've been out of training school for two weeks but I'm confident I remember what to write. I push the door open and there she is. She could be asleep except for the blood on her nose and the purple colouration in her skin. She looks peaceful and I expect that has something to do with the empty bottle of vodka on the floor. I can smell vomit but I don't smell rotting flesh. She hasn't been dead all that long.

I look around the room for signs of struggle as I put on my purple gloves. I ask my colleague to help me search for injuries or anything suspicious. I turn her over and she's cold and stiff. She's heavy and I struggle - as the bed creaks I think for a moment that its her bones but think better of it. I try and leave her in situ and cover her up with the duvet again. I get my pen out as I'm expected to do and decide to spend the minimum time in the room as I describe it concisely and detailed in my book. I call up for an ambulance to attend. There's no rush and I don't expect to see them soon. I start completing my notes with the distraught brother who is crying. I find the concept of a grown man crying difficult to deal with.

The ambulance crew attend and tell me they're going to complete their notes in the ambulance - the poor man in front of me doesn't need another set of uniforms to deal with. It's before trained paramedics can officially pronounce life extinct so I call the police doctor. They return and give me a copy of the triplicate form. I read it with interest looking where all the boxes are ticked and the crew's names wishing my paperwork were as simple to complete.

As I wait for the doctor - who's in no rush - more family turn up requesting to see the body. I deny them - the doctor has to see her first. I feel sorry for them but it takes some pressure off me as they grieve together. I wait in the kitchen out of the way wishing I'd eaten something when my colleagues got takeaway earlier. The doctor arrives and I show him in - as he pronounces life extinct I note the time and the supervisor who's arrived confirms that it isn't suspicious. CID are monitoring - which means they've totally forgotten about this call. I won't. I sit there in the kitchen whilst various family members go in to look at the body. They ask about the blood around the nose and I tell them the doctor states it was brought on by the fitting. I check medical records and listen to what those closest to her have to tell me. She was told to stop drinking or one of her alcohol induced fits could kill her.

I look through her personal effects to make sure there's no goodbye notes. There isn't but there is a bottle of TCP. "That's what she used to mask the smell when she was at work" her brother says as he sees me inspecting it. She worked at a lab in a hospital he tells me. A hospital I know all too well. I go to the kitchen and am introduced to her daughter who is 16. She is distraught. I don't know what to say. She has lost her mother at the hardest time in her life. I am waiting for the undertakers. I will them to hurry up I can't handle the family anymore. They have no animosity towards me but I feel like just my presence is unwelcome. They've probably never had a police officer in their house before.

The undertakers arrive and I wonder how someone ends up doing that job. Family business I think. They pick her up and throw her onto the stretcher and strap her in. The whole process seems disrespectful and I'm glad the family can't see it. They cover her with a blanket and take her down the stairs. I am offered a cup of tea which I decline. It feels wrong to make someone put themselves out after losing a loved one. The family can't wait for a housing association funded carpenter to come and fix the door and it's heart-wrenching to watch the grieving family repair their own door. I think it's wrong and wonder how it has come to this.

I send my overtime form - I go home - I tell my friends what I did today "not much" I say. Life has changed permanently for the family, I will get up and go back to work the next day.

I walk into the court and get changed into my tunic. I laugh and joke with other officers that are there. I walk up to court 1. I see the family sat outside and they are crying. They all look very smart. They recognise me and the brother shakes my hand and says "Thanks very much officer. I told the Coroner to go easy on you cos you're new" I thank him and head into the court. I'm briefed by the clerk and I sit there with sweaty palms. I haven't been in court before. I stand in the witness box for seconds and its over. I nod to the family as I walk out. I get changed and get on the train home. I go to the pub - my day is done. The family go home with a 16 year old daughter who's lost her mum through alcohol.

I don't know what inspired me to write this but I remember every detail as if it were today. This was from a while ago now and doesn't correspond to the date of the post. I'm going to do a few more "nostalgia" posts. Comments please