"Everything That You're Feeling Is Okay"
October 3, 2019 10:45 PM   Subscribe

Las Vegas' death investigators witnessed the atrocities of the Route 91 shooting, then had to grapple with the difficult task of healing themselves. (Ann Givens, GQ)
Within a week of the shooting, [Clark County coroner John Fudenberg] looked around at his office and felt a sense of reckoning. His people needed help. He needed help. He knew that the long-accepted practice in his trade was to leave people alone with their grief. But his conscience wouldn’t let him follow tradition. He knew that he’d be met with some ridicule from his law enforcement peers, but he also knew the cost of not doing it would be greater. “I have 28 years in here,” he said. “I thought, What are they going to do, fire me?
posted by Johnny Wallflower (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This article echoes Laura van der Noot Lipsky’s Work and experience with secondary trauma. It’s important to raise awareness about what people live through on the job, even if it’s hard work to read about. More transparency helps with public comprehension and avoiding magical thinking that it just takes care of itself. Taking a leadership approach is commendable, though I often wonder is OSHA might really look into some basic approaches for routine, intense exposure.
posted by childofTethys at 6:40 AM on October 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

If you’re like me and don’t know which shooting this is, it’s the one that happened at the Las Vegas music festival 2 years ago.

posted by affectionateborg at 8:22 AM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is a really good article, thank you for posting. This stood out to me :

Coroners are often depicted as frumpy gray-haired men, antisocial and drawn to the dead because of some reluctance to connect to the living. But the field is now overwhelmingly female—in Clark County, well over 85 percent of the employees are women. The death examiners I’ve met are charming, sociable, and motivated by a deep sense of empathy. With salaries starting at $15 an hour for a coroner investigator in Las Vegas—the same as an Amazon delivery person—they aren’t exactly in it for the money.

In the county I live in coroners are elected officials, which I always found weird. $15/hr is being eyed to be the minimum wage in some places; this definitely seems like it should pay way more.

OSHA did put out a Critical Incident Stress Guide, which sort of addresses this; and NIOSH has guides for protecting Emergency Responders. OSHA was, at least in the late 90s - early 00s discussing adding PTSD as a Recordable work-related injury/illness, which is a huge step. If they can get that as a rule, I think other mental illnesses are probably not far behind.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 8:39 AM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

amazing work described. i'm super impressed by how fudenberg took responsibility for his employees - the sheer range of types of support offered, and the ongoingness of it, and the lobbying, and the facing of ridicule from law enforcement types (?!). seems exactly like what should be the norm. trauma recovery is truly active work.
posted by gaybobbie at 10:29 AM on October 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Seconding the admiration for thoughtful, compassionate, outside-the-box leadership from John Fudenberg (a career bureaucrat -- 28 years), how he made available yoga, painting, meditation for his employees.

I've only encountered the phrase "low-slung office" (as in this article) to imply the physical space of the entrenched, never-changing, or essentially anonymous professional. From that setting, I can recognize the scale of adjustment or the depth of his empathy required on his part to realize those changes for his employees' care -- I admire his seeing them through.

And that's commenting on leadership. For the other investigators and responders mentioned in the article, I'm in awe of their ability to sustain themselves in the face of such tragedy.

(Contributing to my feelings: I once worked with a guy who did autopsies in a previous career. He had built a brick wall around that life of his.)
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 1:09 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

They recognize in themselves a rare ability to guide people through the murky waters between life and death, and they are pulled to their work with a force as strong as gravity.

When I was in 9th grade my dad was driving me to school one day down the long stretch of Grant Line Road that traces its way from south of Sacramento and highway 99 to the east where it ends around El Dorado Hills and highway 50. It's more built up now, but when I was a kid there weren't any structures for miles on end out there, just fields and the occasional tree.

I was staring out the passenger window into the ditch that lined the road, when I saw the naked body of a woman laying face down in the ditch. It was the middle of winter, it wasn't warm out. It took me a few seconds to process what I had just seen, and then I told my dad to stop the car and go back.

Dad made me stay in the car while he went to check on her. I don't recall all the details clearly but I remember another car stopping and eventually the CHP arriving. Her boyfriend had beat her head in with a tire iron early that morning and left her there to die, we'd find out later in the news. I think she still had a pulse but was otherwise non-responsive long before the ambulance arrived, but I can't exactly remember.

Anyway, for years after that, around the anniversary of her death, I'd get a call from the soft-spoken coroner who had been the one to process her body. Not like a formal psychiatric check-in or anything, but just a reminder that they were still there, and if I ever wanted to talk about what I saw, I could talk with them. I'm sure it wasn't a formal part of their job or even something they likely did on the clock, but I remember getting the calls and knowing that there was someone out there that cared about some kid who saw something horrible on his way to school one morning.

I'm not an entirely religious guy but I do believe certain humans among us are angels that most of us are never fully aware of. The people doing this kind of work for minimum wage just might be some of those.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:34 PM on October 4, 2019 [35 favorites]

I was a volunteer firefighter for many years and had to deal with fatalities on a small number of occasions, all before the recognition of PTSD as something first responders experienced. I can tell you that having someone to talk to would have made a world of difference.
posted by tommasz at 3:59 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

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