Luke Ryle ’15 – Life is not accompanied by many absolutes. The circumstances, events, and results of a person’s existence are innumerable. Equally varied but no less complex, is life’s end. Death, however unpredictable, is certain and humanity’s effort to understand, cope with, and even control it has occupied an immense amount of cultural and intellectual energy. It is in this context that the Marion County Coroner’s Office serves the city of Indianapolis. They, in abbreviated terms, determine how people die. With them, I interned this summer and with them I learned an industry, a side of a city, and a part of the human condition previously unknown to me. This opportunity, made possible, by the Business Leaders Program at Wabash College has been invaluable to my education.
In any death unnatural or unexplained, the Coroner’s Office works to find its cause and manner. Through an investigation of the scene where someone died, an evaluation of their medical and social history, and a medical examination of the body, the Coroners gathers the evidence and makes a verdict. Sometimes the answer is obvious; oftentimes it’s not. The entire process of investigating a death can be time-consuming and difficult. There are many moving parts to closing a case and we interact with numerous other agencies. The police, funeral homes, hospitals, tissue banks, insurance companies, and health departments, to name a few, are all involved in our purpose.
Along with my fellow interns, I performed several duties assisting the staff of the Marion County Coroner’s Office. The summer is an especially busy time with homicides, specifically, reaching their peak during the months of June and July. With the increase in caseload, the staff was glad to have the help of summer interns. As is typical for internships, we spent time with administrative work, learning the way in which the Coroner’s Office operates. Eventually, I was able to aid the staff in specific death investigations both on scene and medically. However, an aspect of this internship that has surprisingly resonated with me is the interaction I’ve had with another party we frequently work with – the families.
Though it is of great concern to society at large to determine why people die, though it is of tremendous importance to our healthcare and legal systems, it is the families of the deceased who benefit the most from our service. I have been asked whether my internship this summer has desensitized me to death and tragedy. It is reasonable that suicides and car accidents as a part of ‘another day at the office’ or the ‘daily grind’ might remove the human grief from the experience, changing what should be shocking and awful into something mundane and commonplace. However, the effect my work has had on me is transforming death from an abstraction to a reality. To hear voices of family members looking for answers about what happened to their loved one is a sobering duty. It takes a concept normally reserved for evening news crawls to a human being standing right in front of me, needing my help. However, providing them with some comfort or certainty during an otherwise traumatic time is subtly gratifying.
This internship has been stressful, fun, tragic, fascinating, and above all educating. It will definitely help me in whatever path I follow after my time at Wabash. If I attend medical school, enter the field of public health, or pursue forensics itself, my experiences at the Coroner’s Office will surely make me a more compassionate and aware physician or scientist. The Business Leaders Program has made a truly unbelievable experience possible for me. For this, I am extremely grateful.