I recently did a presumption. A sixty-eight year old man found cold and stiff in bed in his one bedroom apartment in an elderly housing complex in town. He died sometime during the night, curled on his side, his head pressed against the pillow, a quilt pulled up to his neck. I couldn’t imagine a more comfortable position to enter the big sleep in.
The officer on scene can only find the man’s name on an envelope. After I put the leads on the body and run my six second strip of asystole, and then announce the time, we help the officer search the apartment for a date of birth and a doctor’s name. The apartment is clean and ordered – it looks like he hasn’t lived there long. On the wall are pictures of a little girl from birth to maybe four, big framed portrait type pictures. There is even a picture of her sitting on Santa Claus’s knee. At first I think it might be pictures of all his grandchildren, but after looking closer, it is the same girl. “Check this out,” the officer says, looking in the man’s bureau. The top drawer is piled high in three neat rows with folded white briefs. The second drawer is the same. The third drawer contains neatly folded stacked long underwear; the fourth drawer, white tee-shirts. To the side of the bureau is a plastic garbage bag with more white undergarments.
In the bathroom closet, there are stacks of Ivory soap, piled ten bars high. In the kitchen cabinets, cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli are neatly stacked in three rows three tall, three deep. There are three identical bottles of Aunt Jemima maple syrup. Three boxes of pancake mix.
On top of the refrigerator are three pairs of worn baby shoes, each size slightly bigger than the preceding.
In the refrigerator is sausage, three sticks of butter, orange juice and milk.
Still no vial of life, no meds, no paper with a doctor’s name.
In the bedroom we find a plastic filing bin. We open it on the kitchen table. More photos — all of the same little girl who never appears more than four or five years old. There are lab results from the doctor’s office – pediatric clinic. The girl’s HIV tests are negative. There is a copy of her birth certificate – dated 1995. There are copies of police reports. Domestic violence. Restraining orders. All from 1997-1999. We get the man’s date of birth from one of the police documents. We crosscheck the mother’s name and the child’s name with a few names scrawled on pieces of paper by the phone, but there is no match.
The officer finds some medication – but it is just a physician’s sample – Viagra – in a cabinet by the easy chair which faces the TV. Next to the sample are five aged Polaroid’s – A tall thin woman in her late thirties or maybe younger with hard years accounting for the lines in her face and the darkened eyes. In the first photo she is lifting up her tank top to reveal large oval shaped breasts. In the next, she has one of the breasts lifted up to her mouth as she licks it with her tongue. The next shows her on the bed with her legs open. The fourth is a close-up shot.
We finally find some medication wrapped in a CVS bag shoved in the back of a drawer. Zoloft and Aricept. Zoloft, of course, is an antidepressant. Aricept is for Alzheimer’s.
The officer writes down the prescribing physician’s name, and then calls the Medical examiner’s office. We walk out passing some of the deseased’s neighbors in the lobby who are speaking in hushed tones about the goings on in the man’s apartment this morning. He just moved in recently, I can hear them say, they really don’t know much about him.