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Forensic pathologist Greg Stevens MD is caught in the middle of a bitter struggle between two of his closest friends. Sean Merrick, an attorney specializing in malpractice law, sues Dr. Jason Costanza after Merrick's wife dies unexpectedly, following being evaluated by Costanza. The battle lines are quickly drawn, and sides chosen, in this fast-paced medical-legal thriller.
REMEDIES OF CHOICE by Frank P. WHYTE
The medical examiner hated Mondays. He hated Mondays in general and this Monday in particular. The weekend, as they all tend to be, had been too short. He had been canoeing on the Lewis River with his friends, was just a bit hung-over, and he had gotten too much sun. His head throbbed when he bent forward too far, and his arms and shoulders scratched like sandpaper when he moved them under his starched dress shirt.
The weekend canoe trip was an annual affair with the remnant of his high school buddies, but he felt himself getting too old to act like the kids that they once were. As he stood in the autopsy room and inhaled the strong and biting aroma of the ever-present formalin solution, a wave of nausea began to rise in his gullet. There was no doubt about it. The toll for overindulgence was rising with each passing year.
It would never be said that Greg Stevens MD was above having a good time. But next year, before having that much fun again, he needed to remember how he felt today.
Greg liked being the medical examiner. He didn’t like a lot of the crap that went along with it, but a death investigation, and especially a criminal death investigation, was like trying to solve a big scientific puzzle. He knew that if the lawyers, the politicians, and the cops would just leave him alone to do his job, he would probably be a happy man. But there were newspapers and televisions and that’s why he never had a moment’s peace.
The phone had begun ringing off the hook as soon as he had entered the office this morning. The DA wanted to know the final cause of death from a case last week. The crime lab was curious about toxicology on another, and the local newspaper reporters would take the doctor and start spinning him in verbal circles, hoping that if they moved fast enough, that he would slip and give them some previously withheld piece of information that would form the basis for a new article. Needless to say, Greg didn’t like that game very much.
All of this was going on, and there were still ten bodies to be autopsied. Since he was the pathologist on-call this week, that duty would fall to him as well. It was almost overwhelming. In addition to all of the clinical work and PR, he was also expected in court this morning to testify in a capital murder case, and that responsibility was hanging over him like a time bomb. He knew that he would probably be up to his ears, so to speak, in blood and body parts, when the call would come informing him that it was his turn to testify. At that point he would have ten minutes to get cleaned up and down to the Justice Center. And he would also need to be in a state of mind that would allow him to be convincing to a jury.
But the busy schedule was all part of the reason why he found his job so fascinating. It was like a high-wire balancing act. He knew that there were a great many eyes upon him, just waiting for the first suggestion of a slip-up that might topple him from his perch. Greg knew that there were those who might find his fall amusing, but he had no intention of giving them the satisfaction.
The first case of the morning was straightforward. In fact, as drug overdoses went, they didn’t get much more straightforward. There was some strong Mexican tar heroin on the street, and even the regular users were dying off like flies.Greg had to figure that the addicts didn’t watch the news or read the papers, because he had been warning them for weeks to avoid the stuff. It was only June and the city had already doubled last year’s total for fatal heroin overdoses.
He walked over to the CD player and quickly debated what kind of music he wanted this morning. Yesterday, on the river and in the hot sun, the Stones had been blaring, but this morning he would probably be safer with some Celtic marching music.
He donned his rubber apron and thick rubber autopsy gloves as he quickly glanced over his first patient of the day. The guy was reportedly twenty-eight, but could easily have passed for forty or forty-five. The syringe that he had used to mainline the “smack” was still lodged in his arm, and more impressively, was still half full. The victim had been found behind the wheel of his car this way. Scary thought, mainline some “smack” and go for a drive. I guess the Lord thought otherwise.
Greg stepped on the foot pedal to activate the tape system so he could begin his dictation.
“The body is that of a normally nourished and developed adult Caucasian male, appearing somewhat older than the stated age of twenty-eight years. The head hair is brown, shoulder length, and unkempt. The arms are muscular, and there is a semi-lunar, dark blue or black tattoo, overlying the left deltoid muscle that states: ‘Born Loser’. Talk about being in touch with yourself...”
“There is a 3 cc. syringe, with what is probably a 22 gauge needle attached, that is lodged in the left antecubital fossa. There is profound perivenous scarring overlying the antecubital fossae bilaterally”. This guy had been doing the stuff for awhile, judging by the needle tracks on his arms.
“The adult male genitalia are normally formed and circumcised. The testicles are descended in the scrotum.”
The Celtic marching music pounded in the background. Greg had no clue what the woman was singing, but her voice was no less captivating. It stirred in him some sort of primeval response that he found soothing.
He raised the surgical scalpel to make the y-shaped incision that would allow him to remove the breastplate and view the internal organs. Just as he had expected, the lungs were extremely boggy. They were also still partially filled with air. The liver was large and yellow and had a number of small craters in it. An examination of the brain, after removing it from the skull with an orthopedic saw, indicated swelling that was also consistent with a drug overdose.The conjunctivae in the eyes were blown out with huge hemorrhages. There were small pinpoint vessel ruptures on the face, shoulders, and chest. The lungs looked like overdose lungs and the guy had a syringe still stuck in his arm. There were no other signs of illness or injury that could account for the man’s death, so pending toxicology, the death certificate would be signed Respiratory Arrest, secondary to IV overdose of opiates.
This guy had shot a small amount of tar heroin into his vein and his respiratory system had shut down in a split second. If he had been standing, he would have fallen in the direction he had been leaning. Greg thought to himself, another case solved by the young genius pathologist. Ha, ha, ha.The intercom sounded, and the sweet sound of his secretary’s voice coaxed him out of his self-adulation. The voice informed him that he was needed at the Justice Center.