Monday, March 26, 2012

Out The Window

There is a reason somewhere that explains the number of children I photograph that end up going out a window, normally more than one story high, until such answers are found, I try do the job without being judgmental. Trust me, the less judgmental you are, the less gut wrenching stress you will walk around with.

It was a rainy night in the city of Angels when another call to photograph a child in a pediatric intensive care unit came in. Storms of magnitude are rare in the basin because it is protected by a ring of mountains. The weather has to come in just in the right direction to leave any rainfall at all. The conditions for a child to go out a window seem to be limitless however, the last one was a mystery at the time I took the first pictures. My hope of getting there, doing a few photos and getting back to the lab in just a few minutes went out the window when the team working with the boy had to install another tube. I had a nice chat with the attending officers and quickly ran out of things I wanted to say and questions they wanted to ask. The training from the veteran to the rookie continued and in overhearing that I learned that the people, including the mother, were beginning to change their stories. They were starting to get them to match. Inconsistent stories being told to officers is quite common. I finally got to the boy. He was on life support with its many tubes and wires. I could barely get a clear shot of his face and the wound on it. The nurse helped me get a photo of his leg. I floated a quick hope and a prayer and left. He was in the best of care after falling four stories, I did not ask onto what, that always makes a difference.

Two years before two children had fallen out of a window of a similar hight. As I pulled up many news vans were leaving in a hurry to cover a fire. The situation was like a lot of ones I come across. The kids were playing, too rough for indoors. Their bed was at or above the height of the lower window sill. No protection besides a screen for bugs kept them from going right out. I don't blame them for zipping around a small apartment bedroom. They lived among many other apartment buildings, safe open space is hard to get too. What space their was between two huge buildings of two huge apartment complexes was difficult to walk along, it's narrow nature was in this case life saving. Maintenance crews had just finished raking up debris and leaves after tree trimming. The piles of small branches and leaves were up too my shoulders and hard to get over. We finally got to the spot and pile that was directly below the window clearly visible by the pushed out screen. For once a pending lawsuit forcing a landlord to trim the trees was a true blessing. The news vans had left to cover a fire, more interesting than two children who were going to be okay.

Downtown just outside skid row and before the expensive dwellings begat by the Staples Center are old fashioned apartments. I like them personally. The floors are of thick wood, they were made in an era when a communal bathroom worked well because the times of gentility were in full swing. Sure, it had always been the lower downtown area but at a time when living was without so many wires. A public library was to so many as video kiosks and internet are to us now. People were more decent to each other. Windows started just above the floor in the small living spaces. They were of a generous size, you could walk through one if it were a door. I have never seen one with more than just a screen for bugs on it. That day what the detectives could figure a young father was playing with his small child. They played the game of bounce the child by pouncing on the bed. Getting lost in the euphoria and having no idea of control the detectives surmised the little one jumped during a bounce just outside the young fathers reach. He still had the horror of what happened showing through his face, demeanor, and body posture. Interviews with neighbors and the rest of their assessment added up to an accident. I got ready to leave. A senior detective said that they would follow up with the young man later. Then he might have the courage to tell the truth about what happened. We went outside to a fall day, the kind that just after a rain makes the city feel clean. I began to wonder if the life lessons the job provided might be of use to someone else one day.

Some time before these cases I tossed my judge-mentality out of the window. Then through it fresh air and light came in. I open that window when I need to, all the guards are in place, there is no screen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hospital for kids

There are many Hospitals dedicated to children. I have known most Hospitals to have a children's wing in them. The one I went too today is Children's Hospital on Sunset near Vermont just East of Hollywood California. I go their a lot. I hate it, I love it.

I began to think of the little ones that go to a world class Emergency Room lucky. I have visited morgues, filthy apartments, ritzy houses, and train tracks where the innocent ones had little chance.

Childrens Hospital lacks all the charm of your standard institution. The smell of disinfectant, laced with what ever that is being brought in on a food tray, plus what ever that is for an excuse for coffee at the kiosk blends into what is known as funk. There is no funk their, like it's not allowed. They have a funk police, and they have real power. The entire hospital is made to keep kids calm. It is more beautiful and expansive than most of the homes and over cramped apartments they come from. The walls are colorfully painted with animal themes and floral patterns. The floors lack ick. Ick is the nearly sticky, not sure if you will slip on it, feel, common to, jails, prisons, and the institutional housing of minors deemed not safe for the public. They have an ick police, I wonder if they share the same office with the funk police. There is a helicopter pad on the roof. Time is critical when life threatening injuries happen. Time gets shorter as the body gets smaller.

It was a string of calls from ACU, the Abused Child Unit that got me hating going to see children in the emergency room or ICU, the Intensive Care Unit. Neglect and stupidity can kill a child, when the same is rendered on an adult, it only results in a life lesson.

I get to the main lobby on a hot night like only Los Angeles can get. Anxiety mixed with car fumes makes a funk that is hard to wash off. I'm already not happy having been to one of the worst cases of stupidity I have ever seen. A baby managed to roll around in detergent long enough for it to kill off most of his skin, he was given a twenty percent chance to live. He was a black baby with the kind of adorable cherub face you would expect to see in used an advertisement for some national brand. Photographing what should have been covered in dark soft skin is something I don't allow myself to forget. I will never forget that their is always someone dumber... 

Now I have to find my detectives wondering what I would be getting into now. I call him on his cell, he tells me to find the giraffe elevator and go up to the PICU.  I'm not really in a humorous mood. He also added an animal name for where they were specifically. I tried not to be terse but repeated his directions for the giraffe elevator, some animal name that's in a PICU. He said yes, I have worked with him many times and thought he just might be loosing it. Fine, I'll ask one of the security guards. I gave the security guard the information about the PICU and that animal name. He said to take the giraffe elevator to the fourth floor, repeated the animal name and said that is where the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit or PICU was located. I gathered the look on my face said, just take me their, please.

We went down a long winding hallway. There were excited voices of children playing among the colorful playground animals. Some were in tall wheel chairs, more like for wheel gurneys. They were obviously born with conditions that would see them dead soon in third world countries. The technology keeping them alive was a marvel. I saw them watching other children play, It looked like they were enjoying the show. It felt like a day at the park, a plastic, painted park with carpeting.

The guard got me too the giraffe elevator and told me about the forth floor and where to go when I got their. The elevator rose with my understanding that this is at least a place where a twenty percent chance of living can be. It was the best reason to love it, and so now I do.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spoiled Lunch

We take it for granted in our western world that lunch is sacrosanct. We do not allow intrusion, there are laws against taking it away.

FLSA is one of those acronyms that means Fair Labor Standards Act. CFIT is my favorite acronym, it means Controlled Flight Into Terrain. They both come from the Federal Government and are meant to be part of what makes my life better. FLSA is the one that has the rules about lunch, you have a CFIT, and lunch is no longer a big priority. We have had memos and employees have been disciplined for not taking a proper lunch. I can and do have my lunch time taken away, rarely. I try to bring my own food to work just in case. Today will be chicken soup from my fat thermos. Love it!

Yesterday I sat with my lovely girlfriend during my lunch hour at a place that knows I'm on a time crunch. It was Sunday, the place is popular despite the carpet that needed replacing fifteen years ago. It is a classic Japanese ramen sit down with reggae playing just loud enough to notice when you want to. I got quite anxious when the normal 2 minutes to sit and order stretched into ten. My date became apprehensive, I saw that because I know her. Thats when I felt bad. She is so lovely and expressive and here I am not able to keep up a happy attitude.

I had to wonder about how many people loose it after a ruined lunch. Being in the murder business I ponder what the 'last straw' is for some. Most people kill for a reason. Those of reason then determine if it's murder. Sometimes it is, extenuating circumstances can mitigate sentencing.

I took careful consideration of my attitude as the warmth of the broth made it too my nose and the precision of the ramen making and cooking gave me comfort. I knew someone had put more effort into my lunch then I was.

I said I was sorry. She said not to worry. I realized that lunch, like the rest of life is an experience, how silly I felt for not making that one moment it's best, like I know how too. I at least know that much now, I will pass on the good.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


To help with closure I have often witnessed the coroner allowing people to view the loved one when possible. This is also done at hospitals. This definitely hinges on the condition of the remains...

There is a sprawling shopping district in downtown Los Angeles. Towards it's Eastern fringe a man went to his car and collapsed. Security called 911. The fire rescue had to, as I did, drive up five levels of what had to be the smallest vs tallest parking structure I have ever seen. I finally made it, two officers were between the man on the ground and about five people. I surmised the white sheet near the car had the man in question under it. This was a death investigation call, no foul play was suspected. The sun was only two hours from setting.

The group was distinguished in their looks, attractive overall. They were tall, at least six feet, even the young teen that was there. They had a very dark chocolate look. Their faces had a family similarity to them except one woman who stood with an elderly woman. A young teen boy looked like the elderly woman as did most of the rest. They had broad, flat foreheads with noses that flared at the end and high cheek bones. I can't help notice that type of face, it has an automatic smile built in. No smiles now, I felt the gravity of their pain and the tight bond everyone had to the elder woman.

It was a quick series of photo's. Car identification, body placement and two over-alls. I would get the street signs and outside the building later. No detective was on scene and I was required to wait for the Coroner. I started talking with one of the officers who was pleasant but wanted to go back to his partner and finish discussing the game. He had explained that the group was some of the immediate family, that they were immigrants from one of the Caribbean islands and had businesses in the shopping mall below. I re-parked my truck to help shield the draped over body from being seen. Some of the family seemed very apprehensive about my photography. I talked to the teenage boy and explained that my photography was strictly for the investigation and never for publication. He went into the group, and explained what I said to the elderly woman who was standing with the younger woman. He was broadcasting a little bit, that helped to make everyone less anxious about my presence. It was a beautiful place to look at downtown LA, the sun was setting under a mix of high horse tail clouds and streaks of cloud that jets leave behind all backed up by a sky that was very blue to the East and about to start turning orange in the west.

When the coroner arrived more than an hour later the family gathering was well past thirty. She was sincerely nervous about the group. I told her that they understood what we were required to do.
I went back to talk to the young boy. He explained to me that they would like to give him some things so he would not be alone. Someone else said they needed to do something for him before the sun went down. I told the coroner about this. She understood and told me it would be OK. She would also allow them to be with him before he was removed and that anything dropped off would be kept with him the whole time. The boy and then the group was quite relieved to hear this. I felt very special, and giving for once to have made some effort to help. It felt great that everyone cooperated and that the coroner was very understanding and experienced in such matters.

I finished my final required pictures. As I drove off the van that would remove the body passed me and I saw the coroner directing the family to and around the man.

It does not always go so smoothly. For now I choose to just remember this one as best I can and blot out the rest. The mans family were great examples. They taught me a lot.