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Is Death Investigation for Me?

Elizabeth Ortiz, MS, F-ABMDI

As a death investigator, sometimes my brain does not shut off. This is something anyone looking to work in this field needs to understand. Recent studies have indicated first responders might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder since they encounter and work cases that might pull at their heart strings. I am not a first responder but what I see is something that cannot be unseen and those cases do pull at my heart strings.

Many students are currently feverishly trying to acquire a career that involves the forensic sciences, which is admirable. The one question I would ask these students is, can you turn off your mind? Do you have outside activities, hobbies not involved in forensics or a good support system? If these students do not have any of these outlets then I would encourage they start establishing something that will allow them to be able to turn off the mind from what it has seen. Personally, I would look at a hobby that is completely unassociated with forensics. For example, I do yoga and I take long hikes through the many trails offered here in Colorado. I capture those amazing hikes by photographing the landscape. It is breathtaking and refreshing because for those hours I am away from the city, I can honestly forget the gruesomeness I see on a daily basis and focus on what is important in my life.

Taking the necessary courses to reach the ultimate goal of working in the field is just one small step. Learning from a textbook provides the fundamental basis of understanding the forensic field but being submerged in it is completely different. Smelling the smells associated with decomposition is one thing.

Or feeling a drop of blood fall on the back of your neck while investigating a bloody scene is something you cannot learn from a textbook. Also, crawling through a crawlspace to retrieve a body only to be accosted by the multiple spiders that call that crawlspace their home is once again something you cannot understand or grasp the gravity of the situation from a textbook. These are physical effects in a field that is completely amazing yet they can also send you over the edge.

I would encourage those students who still want to be a part of this field to volunteer or retain an internship. This is a great opportunity to actually see, smell, touch and hear what it is like to be a part of an investigation that will test your limits. Once those limits are tested, the true question is going to be how are you going to turn off your brain?