Making Peace with the Coroner
by Art Goodtimes
Jan 21, 2010 | 800 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print

ANNUAL REPORT … I’ve been hounding poor Bob Dempsey, ever since the state decided to give county coroners real salaries several years back. But at a recent Rotary meeting, when we got to talking, I realized that we’d never had a report from Bob about what it is he does, and how often he does it … So, I was delighted when, at my request, he prepared just such a report for the County this year. And it was an eye-opener … Turns out the coroner’s job is really more of an investigative task than a medical one (as Bob says in his report with a bit of wry humor, “I’ve never seen a dead person who needs a doctor.”) … First, Dempsey has to retrieve and secure the body and personal possessions (over which the coroner has total control). Then he has to analyze what happened, get all the facts, names, witnesses, family contacts, and then determine the cause of death. If that’s not clear, an autopsy is done (performed in our County’s case by the pathologists at Montrose Memorial Hospital). Bob has to arrange for the transportation of the body (usually to one of three Montrose funeral homes), notify the families, maintain contact with them until the deceased’s possessions are returned to the heirs, and provide them with an autopsy report. Finally, there are follow-ups, a report to file, notification to local news outlets, and the signing of the death certificate, which is then filed with the county registrar (in our county’s case, Jan Stout, who doubles as county treasurer) … In 2009 Bob signed 22 death certificates (compared to 17 in 2008). Seven of the deaths involved Alpine Home Health and Hospice out of Naturita, which Dempsey said “does a wonderful job.” Cancer of one kind or another played a hand in four deaths. Three were due to cardiac arrest, while one was congenital heart failure and another due to end-stage heart failure. Two were bicycle accidents, two were heroin overdoses, and two were caused by diabetes. One was a motorcycle accident (hitting a deer), one was from a plane accident two years earlier whose body was finally found, one was coronary artery disease, one was a suicide, one was an out-of-control skier who hit a tree, one was a uranium miner whose death was caused by “radiation pulmonary fibrosis” and one was due to mycoarditis (a type of fungus infection) … After reading through Bob’s report, I was impressed with the amount of work the coroner has to do. It’s a job that Dempsey has been doing for a long time. And well … So, I’m over it. No more kvetching about Bob’s salary. From the look of things, he earns it.

BON TON … Took my youngest son to dinner there, and amazingly one of the owners came over and welcomed me. He remembered when I used to bring my young daughter (Iris) there some 20 years ago … The menu has changed a bit but the food was delightful. Highly recommended if you’re over in Ouray.

ARGUEDAS … Ken Lassman of the Bioregional network sent this haunting piece around the internet a few years back. It was written by Indigenista writer Jose Maria Arguedas, of Peruvian and Quechua descent – a visionary born in 1911 and who in deep depression committed suicide in 1969. I’ve written the poem out in prose form here. The title is Huk Dokturkunaman Qayay, or "A Call To Some Doctors … “They say that we don't know anything, that we are backwardness, that they'll exchange our heads for others, better ones. They say that our heart also does not match the times, that it is full of fear, tears, like the calendar lark; like the heart of a huge, butchered bull; and thus (saying) we are impertinent. They say that some doctors tell this about us; doctors who multiply in our land, who grow fat here, get golden. What are my brains made of? O what the flesh of my heart? The rivers run roaring in their depth. Gold and night, silver and the fearsome night shape the rocks, the walls of the canyon, the river sounding against them; of that silver and gold night-rock are my mind, my heart, my fingers. What's there, at river's edge, unknown to you, doctor? Take out your binoculars, your best lenses. Look if you can. Five hundred kinds of flowers, of as many kinds of potatoes grow on the balconies unreached by your eyes; they grow in the earth; mixed with night and gold, silver and day. Those five hundred flowers are my brains, my flesh. Why did the sun stop for an instant, why have the shadows disappeared? Why, doctor? Start your helicopter and climb here, if you can. The condor's feathers, those of smaller birds, light up, are now a rainbow. The hundred flowers of quinoa which I planted at the summit bubble, their colors in the Sun; the black wings of the condor and of the tiny birds are now in flower. It is noon; I am close to the lord-mountains, the ancestor-peaks; their snow now yellow flecked, now with red patches, is shining in the Sun. Don't run away from me, doctor, come close! Take a good look at me, recognize me. How long must I wait for you? Come close to me; lift me to the cabin of your helicopter. I will toast you with a drink of a thousand different flowers, the life of a thousand crops I grew in centuries, from the foot of the snows to the forests of the wild bears. I will cure your weariness, which clouds you; I will divert you with the light of a hundred quinoa flowers, in the sight of their dance as the winds blow; with the slight heart of the calendar lark which mirrors the whole world; I will refresh you with the singing water which I will draw out of the black canyon's walls. Did I work for centuries of months and years in order that someone I do not know and does not know me, cut off my head with a small blade? No, brother mine. don't sharpen that blade; come close, let me know you; look at my face, my veins; thin winds blowing from us to you, we all breathe them; the earth on which you count your books, your machines, your flowers, it comes down from mine, improved, no longer angry, a tamed earth. We know that they want to misshape our face with clay; exhibit us, deformed, before our sons. We don't know what will happen. Let death walk towards us, let these unknown people come. We will await them; we are the sons of the father of all the lord mountains; sons of the father of all the rivers.”



—for Jean Daive

you sleep

because you don’t

have the guts

to fight it

night comes

and you think

we must obey it

why fight

when it’s enough

to set it on fire

-Harold Carr

Salt Lake City

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