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Once you’ve seen one corpse, you’ve seen them all…

July 30, 2011

My sister is a doctor. This leads to certain assumptions, some of which are more founded than others.

One example is that anyone with even a passing acquaintance to her can suddenly feel it appropriate to uncover an unspecified part of their body to allow the rash/spots/warts/scaly skin to be inspected and the causative condition diagnosed. Another is that because she’s seen some dead bodies, all subsequent dead bodies she is exposed to will have little or no effect on her.

The latter is not an assumption she expected to be tested on a day out at a large London park. Yet when she needed a wine-induced wee stop in some bushes, taking her husband as look-out, she noticed what looked like a clothed mannequin semi buried in the leaves. She mentioned this to her husband, who then observed that an abandoned dummy probably wouldn’t be attracting as many flies as this one was. They hurried back to their friends, selecting one whose birthday they weren’t celebrating in the park, and asked him to come and have a look at what they’d found. Face-down, smartly dressed was the body of a woman.

Fast forward an hour or so and the police have taped off the area and my sister, her husband and their friends are giving statements in the back of patrol cars. “You needed the toilet so you took your husband with you?” one officer asked sceptically. “You’re a doctor? Just as well it was you that found the body then.”

Even though the NHS has its faults, people seemed to have overlooked the fact that the few bodies my sister has seen so far have been relatively clean, in hospital beds and, to be frank,  undecomposed.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a surreal wave of police, pushy members of the public trying to find out what had happened and a quickly evaporating drunkenness. My sister still hadn’t peed and recalls hearing a scratchy police message going over the radios: “Yeah, the witness is having a wee now”.

Being driven away from the cordon, a passer-by knocks on the driver’s window and asks the way to a certain part of the park. “Do I look like fucking tourist information?” the policeman bellows. Closing the window, he apologised to my sister. “We’re not supposed to swear, sorry.”

A few weeks later, when she and her husband were away in Scotland, she got a phonecall from the police telling her that they had identified the woman. It appears the death was the result of a sad situation where a woman with mental health problems had been missing for a while. It’s thought she stumbled into the woods and died, possibly through an overdose.

“She’d been there a while,” the woman reported to my sister, who said they weren’t sure as they hadn’t turned the woman over. “Oh yes,” the woman on the phone added, “When we picked the body up the head fell off.”

Doctor, police officer, paramedic – whatever you do, I’m not sure how many dead bodies you need to have experienced for that sentence to seem ok.

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