We have received SO many questions – very interesting ones at that! For those new to this site, Jacquie is a Coroner in Kendall County, Illinois. She has dedicated most of her life working in the death industry. Here, she spends time talking about various aspects of death. Many questions asked by users on an anonymous internet forum, along with her stories, information and advice have been published in the book, “Spoiler Alert: You’re Gonna Die“. Since the book release, she has continued answering them here on the blog. We have received hundreds of questions from all over the world. If you have one of your own, we invite you to go ahead and ask here.
Now, let’s get right in to the good stuff!
Q: “Hey Jacquie! I first read about you on BHB, so of course had to buy your book. I read it in one day and loved it. It’s awesome, and so are you! Thank you for starting this conversation and bringing awareness to this very important and unavoidable topic. It really got me thinking about my own death.
Which brings me to my question. Naturally, after reading your book, I tried talking to my husband about making plans and at least having a general idea of being prepared for “when the time comes” for us. It’s something we’ve never discussed. We don’t have a will or anything either. So when I brought it up, I just said that this book was eye-opening, made me think, etc. and that I think it’s important to think about and discuss. He just closed off completely and got stubborn and defensive. He then refused to talk about it. I can kind of understand where he’s coming from, because his mother died young about 14 years ago from complications after a liver transplant when he was 20. They were extremely close, and it was (and still is) very difficult for him to deal with. I’ve fortunately not yet experienced the death of a parent or anyone else very close to me. I want to have this conversation with him, but I know it’s painful for him to talk or even think about death. I mean, it’s not something I like thinking about, either, but it’s kind of important. He says he doesn’t want to feel pressured/shamed/guilted into talking about something he’s not comfortable thinking about. (I did none of those things when I brought up the topic – all I said was, hey this is something we should talk about.) The last thing I want to do is bring up bad or painful memories for him, but I do want to have some sort of plan to help alleviate that worry down the road (for both of us). I have no idea what his thoughts are about his own death. Does he want to be buried, and if so, where? Or does he want to be cremated, and if so, what does he want done with the cremains? It just makes me nervous/anxious thinking about it obviously, because even though I don’t want to think about him dying in the first place, it makes it so much more difficult not even having a general idea of what he would want because he refuses to talk about it.
I can’t force him to talk about this, but where do I go from here? Do you have any suggestions for ways I can gently talk about this without making him feel pressured? I feel like there’s no easy way to talk about this stuff. But I want to establish a “plan” for myself at the very least, and I do plan on writing some of this stuff down. I’m just at a loss as to what to do when it comes to my husband.
Anyway, thanks so much for everything you do! I can only hope that the coroner in charge of handling my death is as wonderful, compassionate, and caring as you are.”
A: Honestly, one of the best suggestions I can think of is to make your own plans for him. Write them all down, then show them to him. If he doesn’t have any opinions, seeing your ideas might make him start thinking and compel him form some of his own. If you really want to get him to participate, make sure the plans you create are absolutely terrible. I am sure he’ll object if you tell him you want to have his body stuffed to be on display in the living room, or that you want his remains turned in to a toilet paper holder. When he does, tell him it’s happening unless he comes up with something better. Thank you for your kind words! I’m sorry to hear of his loss. Death is a painful topic for many people, but when it comes to the details, there really isn’t any easy way to sugarcoat it.
Q: “During an autopsy are AIDS and Hepatitis automatically checked for? Are toxicology and blood tests (for disease) run even if they find something catastrophic early on?”
A: AIDS is never routinely checked for. Even with clinical history – we don’t check for it. We’ll make note that the person has a clinical diagnosis of AIDS. Hepatitis is a very broad term for inflammation/diseases of the liver, and hepatitis is often seen. We don’t necessarily test for which type of hepatitis unless microscopic studies are needed for some reason.
Q: “How many deaths do you see with pineal lesion or cyst, also with hemiplegic migraine?”
A: Personally, I’ve never seen a Pineal Lesion or cyst (Pineal Gland Lesions are rare and cause symptoms like headaches, seizures, emesis and paralysis of upward gaze.) The doctors and techs I work with, in other counties, have seen them. Again, very rare. Hemiplegic Migraine, (which causes weakness on one side of the body during a migraine), I haven’t ever come across.
Q: “What are the rules regarding what information a coroner can disclose, and who they can disclose it to? What about cases of suicide?”
A: It depends on the state you are in. In IL, each case is considered public record and can be disclosed to anyone who asks. Generally, people don’t ask… but, if they do, we have to let them see it or provide copies. Certain copies (autopsy reports, toxicology reports, coroner reports, etc.) have a fee set by state statute – so, people have to pay the fees to get copies of those reports. The only thing we don’t give out is a copy of the death certificate which is considered to be a vital record and not public record.
Q: “I’m writing a novel and it the detective wants to know if a murder victim had sexual intercourse before his demise. Is there a way the medical examiner can determine that and how? Thank you.”
A: For a male, I believe the only way would be to swab the inside of the urethra for sperm and to swab the outside for DNA for another person (female or male).
Q: “If you were choosing a career field now, would you choose this career? Why or why not?”
A: No, if I could choose any career, I would want to be my husband’s smartphone so he’d interact with me more.
Honestly, though, I would probably choose something similar, but not this actual career. I’d likely go into forensic genetics. Reasons? 1) Hours. 2) Pay.
Q: “Can a coroner’s report detail the exact benzo or opiate that was in your system, or will the class of the drug just be listed? If they don’t know, will they just list the class instead of the exact name of drug? I’ve seen reports with both.”
A: All forensic labs have testing limits. So, for easy math, let’s pretend the testing limit for the blood is 1.0 and the actual level found in the body is 0.75 – then, no – it won’t be listed in the blood because it doesn’t meet the reporting limit. However, if there is a urine sample provided with the blood sample – then, the urine sample will show positive/negative results and it will show positive for the actual drug classification. That’s probably why you have seen reports with both. However, if we pretend the drug met the testing limit, let’s say in this case it was heroin, then the blood results will show morphine with an actual level, plus another agent that is usually used to cut the heroin, (let’s say codeine), plus we will see 6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM) which always indicates heroin. The urine will simply show positive for opiates and positive for 6-MAM. But, we will also see a positive for opiates in the blood. I hope that makes some sense.
Q: “Would a person who Over dosed on a speedball know what is happening to them?”
A: No. They would eventually just go to sleep/pass out and their body systems would shut down slowly.
Q: “How is the corpse’s hair prepared for a showing?”
A: For a woman, usually a funeral home contracts with a hairdresser who comes in and does the hair. The hair is washed during the embalming process. It is combed straight through. The hair dresser will use curling irons, flat irons, etc. to style the hair according to the family’s wishes. Men’s hair is simply combed.
Q: “If a person colors/dyes their hair, does the dye seep through the scalp onto the skull cap and then color the skull cap (multicolor)?”
A: No. Not at all.
Q: “I’m an absolute mess….have been for over 6 months….I not only have extreme torso bloating…I am all bones from the chest up. Severe pain that only aspirin and milk seem to help…any ideas…thanks..!!”
A: WAT? Umm, I’d recommend you see an internist…
Q: “For what reason would you open a person’s back and legs during an autopsy?”
A: We would open the legs looking for deep vein thrombosis. We would open the back looking for deep tissue injury in the event of an in-custody beating or something like that. Mostly we can see the back wall from the inside when we have the chest open and the organs removed – so, anything pertinent will be seen. There’s very little reason to open the back. In child abuse cases, we will make thin slices (called fileting) from the top of the shoulders, long ways, to the bottom of the thighs, looking for deep tissue bruising from severe abuse. Depending on the size of the child you could have anywhere from 10 to 20 or so ‘slices’ down the back. It is very sad.
More questions will be posted soon. If reading these triggered a few questions of your own, go ahead and ask them! Thanks for reading & sharing.
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