posted on Mar, 19 2008 @ 10:20 PM
My name is Dr. Phillip Metzger. I am 65 years old. I have been the county coroner for thirty years. Today marks my last day before retirement. I
have performed so many autopsies that it is impossible to count. The many faces I have and have not seen are jumbled and some lost within my mind.
Although from time to time they do make a reappearance in my thoughts. Most post mortems that I have had the responsibility to perform have been
that of a sad affair. Many have dealt with young children and those that did not deserve to die in the manner that they did.
Let me start by giving you a brief background of myself. I was born on February 6th , 1943 in upstate NY. There I attended Cornell University and
later finished my medical education at Harvard. I became the Medical Examiner of York County in 1978. Through my first few years as a Medical
Examiner, I began to feel like I could not handle all of the death that came across my desk and through my morgue. From young babies dying from SIDS,
to young teenagers dying from a drive by shooting over a drug related incident. There were many innocent victims as well. Those that died at the
hands of their mothers or fathers or were the victims of a murderer. Being surrounded by death day in and day out can take a toll on a human psyche.
After my fifth year on the job, I met my unforgettable wife Sarah. She turned me around. Lifted my spirits day in and day out through all of the
depressing stories that I had shared with her. She kept my head up when the days seemed full of gloom. We were eager to start a growing family and
within three years we had two children, one boy and one girl. They became my life. Everything I did was for them. All of the long hours and
difficult cases meant nothing as long as I knew my family was safe and taken care of.
One snowy and bone chilling evening, my wife was picking up the kids from their after school activities. Usually she called me when she got home to
let me know everyone was home safe and sound. But that night, the call that I received was not from my wife. It came from the police station. They
told me to get to the hospital ASAP, there was an accident. My wife’s vehicle had slid off the road and into an oncoming truck. My whole family
had died on impact. The force of two vehicles colliding head on is such that it is very difficult for those inside to survive. Especially in
vehicles that do not have airbags as ours did not. My two little one’s were so small the impact literally shook their inside’s to death. My wife
did not have her seatbelt on and was thrown from the vehicle.
My life as I new it was never going to be the same. I did not know how I was going to make it. I did not have immediate family left as my folks had
died when I was a kid. When you are a person who deals with death everyday, people do not necessarily flock to you to be their friend. It is very
demanding on all fronts to choose this career path, but nonetheless, I had. The years went by, very slowly I might add. The only thing I had left
was my job. That is pretty much all I did. Get up, work, eat, and sleep. And then do it all over again. As the years passed, I could feel myself
slipping further and further away from wanting to exist. To be honest, I am not sure how I have made it to this point. But, here I am about to
perform my last autopsy. To be honest, I do not know what I will do after this. I have nothing left after work.
I walked over to the cooler and wheeled the old metal cart containing the John Doe over to the autopsy table. I lifted the sheet to begin my external
examination. Grabbing my digital recorder I began my final case.
“Friday, March 21st, 2008. Case number A08-301. John Doe brought to York County Medical Examiner’s Office on the evening of March 20th 2008. I,
Phillip Metzgar, York County Medical Examiner will begin external exam.”
“Male. Five feet nine inches tall, approximately 180-190 pounds. Apparent shotgun blast to the face leaving black powder residue on the remaining
bone and soft tissue that is still attached to the neck. There are traces of gray hairs also attached to the remaining portion of the skull. Two
tattoos. One of a Chinese symbol on the right forearm and one of a fraternity crest on the lower right leg. Five small scars on the abdomen each
measuring 1 centimeter in length. Scars appear to be from a previous surgery. No additional scars or markings grossly identified on external
examination. I will now begin internal examination.”
Cases like these are hard. Especially John Does. There are no teeth left on this guy, so dental records are out of the question. The only hope is
through fingerprints. Hopefully he has them on file somewhere. I continued to take the fingerprints and faxed them over to the police station. They
should be able to run them and give me answer by the time I finish this autopsy.
“The traditional “Y” incision is made. I will enter the chest cavity after removing the breast plate with the bone saw.”
That is one sound I will never forget. It is like stepping on dry twigs as you hike through the woods. Forever engrained in my head.
“After removing the breast plate, there are no gross abnormalities involved with the chest organs. Heart is a normal weight and lungs appear to be
healthy. The gross examination of the bowel appears to be normal. No visible tumors or obstructions noted. Removal and closer examination of the
bowel reveals the same as previously stated. Removal of the chest organs is next to get a bit of a closer look at the heart and lungs. The lungs,
after sectioning, show no signs of distress or pulmonary embolism. Appear to be in good shape.
Upon sectioning and a closer look at the heart reveals an interesting find. The spaces between the mitral valve leaflets seem to be wider than a
normal functioning heart. These are consistent with what is called ‘broken heart syndrome’.”
What causes this anomaly is still up for debate and scrutiny. Many people do believe that people die from this due to a tragic event at some point in
their life. But without the physical evidence and the deceased’s mental history, it cannot be a definitive cause of death.
“Continuing with the internal examination, removal of the spleen and kidneys reveals no abnormalities. All are of normal weight and appearance.
Finishing with the removal of the pelvic organs, the prostate and bladder also appear to be of normal shape and color. No abnormalities grossly
identified. Preliminary cause of death consistent with that of a gunshot wound to the head.”
After sewing up the body and cleaning up my work area, I decided to go and reflect in my office for one last time as I await the fingerprint results
from the police. I had a few odds and ends to pack up as well. I grabbed the box on the floor and put my belongings in it. Amongst them was a
picture of me with my fraternity pledge class from Cornell. What a time that was. Wouldn’t it be great to be so carefree again? The fun, the
girls, the knowledge I gained. Unforgettable times. Another piece I had on my desk was a photo of my wife and I at a New York Yankees ballgame. We
loved NY City. Especially walking through china town and sampling all of the exotic foods they have to offer there. It was our favorite place to
visit. The closest thing to China you can come to without leaving the mainland.