Friday, October 17, 2008
the body in the shelter
At about five to six we turn on the lights and wake everyone in the shelter up. It's early, but we open again at seven after a cleaning. If people don't wake up, we have to go around and wake them up. Saturday morning, someone didn't wake up.
A colleague of mine, my capitalist catholic friend (who shall from now on in my blog be referred to as "ccf"), called down to me in the drunk tank "there's a dead body up here". Needless to say, I didn't believe him. Ccf has a tendency to tease me, calling me the little sister he never had. Eventually though, he got me upstairs.
The body in the shelter was very dead. The man had likely died hours earlier. The body was in rigor mortise, and his skin was cold. I checked his breathing one more time, as my supervisor was on the phone with the police/ambulance. The ambulance came, but thankfully, they did not try to resuscitate him. Then the police. Then they had to wake up a medical examiner, then arrange transport. All the while our clients are stuck outside.
I've never found a body before, never been so close, never checked for life that wasn't there. I had nightmares that morning.
What shocked us all, was when we opened his client file. This was a man who had been sleeping at our shelter every night for quite some time, and we had NOTHING on him. No next of kin, no medical conditions, no identifying things at all. And as we talked, amongst ourselves, and with members of other shifts, we came to realize that no one knew him. We had all had contact with him, but none of us really knew him at all. The clients didn't seem to know him either.
Talking to the police, and my coworkers, we are all glad he had the death he did, surrounded by people in the place he spent his nights. He died before the cold of winter, he died peacefully in his sleep, he died without painful intervention, without prolonged illness.
He was only 57. Being homeless ages you like nothing else.