Angie Fuller, a forensic technician assistant supervisor, has worked at the Fulton County Medical Examiners Office for nine years. She and her team are responsible for collecting and preserving evidence from the body. She receives an average of four to five bodies a day.
How did you get to be involved with the Fulton County Medical Examiners Office?
I went to school at Gupton-Jones College of Mortuary Science in Decatur. But I was not a good embalmer. I could never find the vessels! So I came to the Medical Examiners Office and asked them if I could volunteer, so I could see the anatomy from the inside the body. I was such a good cleaner that they decided to hire me six months later. Thats how I got started. I was a good cleaner!
What is the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
That we have cold hands, and that everyone who is dead is cold. While that may be true in some cases, sometimes well get people who die right on the scene and we get the body four hours later. So its still kind of warm. But thats a basic misconception that any anyone who works in the morgue or autopsy room has cold hands. One thing for sure: [Our work] is not what you see on "CSI."
It would take more than a day for us to get the lab results back to solve one case. And we dont do autopsies in the dark!
What was one aspect of the job that was the hardest to get used to?
Probably a decomposed body. The odor is an odor that youve never smelled before. It tends to stick with you. It doesnt smell the same as an animal thats decomposing. Youd have to smell it to know what Im talking about.
How much do you know about the lives of people who come in for autopsies?
Well, thats where our investigators come in, and they do a great job at interviewing the family on the scene. They try to know as much as the family knows, and they do a great job at that.
What kind of information is important for you to know?
A persons habits. Were they drug users? Did they have any significant medical history, such as heart surgery? Medical history is no. 1, because someone could have a history of having triple bypass surgery and that would be significant to know, because an autopsy might not be necessary.
Could you describe the process of examining the body?
Basically, the doctor is in charge, and theyre going to be doing a majority of the examining. Once we open up the body, we may see things and have to bring it to the doctors attention. For one, if theres any trauma to the body from the inside. Suppose somebody got hit in the abdominal area, you may not see anything from the outside. Once the technicians open up the body, you might have this blood clot or some hemorrhage in the abdominal area, and you would call attention to that. You have to be on the lookout for things like that, things that arent normal.
What are some things you usually see?
An enlarged heart. Thats common, period, in a lot of deaths. The heart is a muscle, so the more you work it the bigger it gets. Weve seen damage done to organs, from a bullet perhaps, if somebodys shot.
What are the top three causes of death you see?
The most common would be natural death, traffic accidents and homicides. In a natural case, the most common would be something like cardiovascular disease, a hardening of the arteries. In a traffic accident, it would just be blunt-force trauma to a certain part of the body, whether it be to the brain or the torso. With a homicide, it varies.
What else would you like people to know about your line of work?
The co-workers here are very family-oriented, and thats great because of the tragedies that we see every day. Its kind of like a support system. We eat lunch together and well give a party every month for anniversaries, so its very close-knit. The chief medical examiner is very in-tune with the technicians, and even though he is the head honcho, he still comes and talks with us. Were all very in-tune with one another. Nobody thinks theyre better than one another in this office; thats whats so great. We all truly work together.
*This post has been altered from the original to reflect a correction.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
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