Night watch doctors are very interesting because they never act how you might expect. On TV, doctors are always good looking, poignant, intelligent, and above all, good at what they do. In real life, the doctors I meet often seem to be only slightly more medicinally qualified than me.
Last week, I was at a small local hospital (which will remain nameless) guarding a gang member who had been shot multiple times and later proved to be mortally wounded from his injuries. The gangster was being attended to by four scared nurses and one crusty old doctor who had apparently just woken up. He had a good three-days beard growth on his face and the hair on the back of his head was matted down, indicating that he had just finished a delightful nap in an unused examination room. Had I been doing a traffic stop on the good doctor, a Breathalyzer test would have been in order.
The doctor spotted me while he was working on the soon-to-be-dead gangster. He suddenly abandoned his post and walked over to inform me of the situation. Removing his bloody gloves, he said in an alarmingly calm voice, "Ya know, it doesn't look very promising." Had I been thinking, I would have asked to see his credentials to make sure he wasn't just some guy who was staying at the local Holiday Inn Express. Minutes later, I saw my partner in the hospital lobby. I told him, "Dude, if I get shot standing right here, I want you to throw me in the black & white and drive me to another hospital."
Of all the people I come into contact with, coroners are by far the most colorful. Not only do they have the best stories, but they also tend to have the best sense of humor. Any coroner will tell you, the worst calls we get are when we have to respond to a senior care facility. Those are the worst because there will usually be a room full of old people lying in beds (think Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) but only one of them is dead. Upon arrival, our job is to examine and make sure said dead person is in fact dead and that there is no evidence of foul play.
If I happen to arrive during scheduled nap time it's even more complicated, because everyone in the room is asleep or dead, and I'm supposed to know which is which. There's nothing quite like walking over to what you expect to be a lifeless body when, without warning, said body sits up and asks you to turn up the volume on Matlock. I've decided the best thing to do from now on is to, upon entering the room, hit my baton against the door frame of the room as hard as I can and look to see who flinches and who doesn't.
One day, I responded to the scene of a suicide. The deceased lived in small, multiple level home, not uncommon in the San Fernando Valley. By the time I was done with my investigation, the family of the departed had gathered outside of her home. Part of my job is to assist the coroners with a swift removal of the body before the family gets too grief stricken and needs to be physically restrained. The coroner who responded was so small and weak, I could tell that I would be doing most of the heavy lifting to get the body out of the house and down the stairs.
The coroner and I wrapped the body discretely into a body bag. We put it onto a gurney and made our way out the front door. As we neared the top of the complex flight of stairs in front of the house, the experienced coroner stopped and looked around to assess the situation. She told me: "Listen, the whole family is standing around watching us. I'm not gonna lie, there's a good chance that you and me are going to drop this body." I was shocked at her complete lack of confidence. Then she said, "If it starts to fall, let it fall. Trust me, I've been doing this for years, it's much better to drop the body and pick it back up than to play hot potato with it on the stairs in front of the family." Fortunately, we made it down the stairs and into the County van without incident.