This issue of
Citylife

Dice Game

  1. Spend a day with the ER team at one of the hospitals (or) watch over a post mortem.
  2. All day Muay Thai training and then take on the top boy.
  3. Run up to Doi Suthep temple in fancy
  4. Be a DJ at TITS radio for a day.
  5. Appear on Thai TV.
  6. Spend an afternoon at The House of Male.

I threw a one this month:

The sight of two dead young men puts things in perspective: puts mortality in perspective. I had never seen a dead body before. “This one,” Dr Tanin pointed at the body of a man, his head misshaped, stitched and bruised, “died after seven days in the hospital.” “What happened?” I asked, feeling very light headed. “What do you think?” “Looks like a motorcycle accident,” Oliver Benjamin, whom I had asked to come along with me to take photos, replied. “Well done,” said the doctor. He went over to the other body. “This one here we are still not sure of the cause of death, that’s why we have to do the autopsy.” Someone stuck a large syringe into his stomach and drew out the urine. He was brought in to the hospital at four in the morning, only a few hours prior to me seeing him. Looking at the tattooed arm gave me a sense of his life, of a person that was now a corpse. No gnarled or mangled expression; he looked quite serene, but every time I concentrated my gaze on him I felt a rush of blood to the head. Death does me in. I’m not ready for dead people. He looked unharmed, without injury, like he was sleeping and would get up at any moment, wipe off the surgical ointments and light up a fag. He was more difficult to look at than the other lad – who had obviously succumbed to some cruel end at the hands of steel and tarmac – in as much as he looked dead. The doctor and Oliver chatted nonchalantly about the cause of death, while a young female doctor, (quite attractive – evoking a pang of guilt thinking about that) actually, the first female forensics doctor at Suan Dok hospital, laboured with notes and findings. I felt as though I had sniffed some gas. The night before the visit to the hospital I had thought that watching an autopsy would be an incredible insight, an
education, something to tell my friends; yet, when confronted with the prospect of opening up two lads, I froze.

Dr Tanin Bhoopat, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Forensic Medicine treated the corpses like I might treat my computer, I asked him how he felt in the presence of death day in day out, dissecting bodies and having to witness the stark consequences of violence and hate. “I’ve worked here for 24 years, I’m used to it. . . I remember my first hour of anatomy and I did feel strange, I couldn’t eat after it.” Suan Dok has the only specialist forensic department in Chiang Mai, it’s also home to CMU’s faculty of medicine. The doctor had worked rigorously on the Kirsty Jones case – which is still ongoing – and had been at the aftermath of the Tsunami in Phuket. “Our objective is to find the cause of death and also the manner of death. By the manner I mean if it was a homicide, suicide or natural death. Then we find the cause and try to help the police.” “So what you do is often top secret?” “Yes, we cannot discuss anything with the public until we have addressed a committee.” I wanted to press him further about lies, corruption, cover ups etc., but I knew it would have been in vain. “Do you always find the cause of death, or does it sometimes remain a mystery?” “Sometimes we can’t, sometimes it’s very difficult. Example: seven skeletons were found in Mae Hong Son, so far we have only identified four of the people. It takes only 3-6 months for the body, when underground, to be reduced to a skeleton.” “What?” asked Oliver, “there’s DNA in the bones?” The doctor replied in the positive and went on to tell US that about 10% of all his cases are murders, which is about 100 hundred a year. Another doctor had entered the room whom I had earlier thought to be a student, he looked so young. I asked him how he felt about the job, his name was Dr Pranitan. “I like it a lot; I have been a forensic doctor for two years.” Ollie asked, “It’s hard to imagine why you would choose this job, is it not depressing?” “It’s interesting and I enjoy solving problems, it’s like I get to help society and I get a lot of satisfaction from it. I work for social justice.”

“One more thing doctor. I know Thais are very superstitious and I know the supernatural scares the hell out of many

Thais. So how do you deal with this job, do you feel like you surrounded by ghosts?” They both laughed. “Well, actually,” said Dr Tanin, “I believe in the Buddhist precept of reincarnation, I believe in ghosts but so far I haven’t seen one. Anyway, we are helping people, not hurting them . . . my family was a little bit against it at the start but they got used to it. You have to be optimistic in this job, you must be proud of what you are doing. I even tell my kids about the cases and they like to hear about them, my job is very interesting.”

He then took us to the autopsy room where the previous chat in his office was obscured by the sight of motionless, yellowing bodies, dead hair, dead teeth, someone’s son etc. I had the urge to touch one of the bodies, to do what I was not supposed to. Just to check; like I said, one guy didn’t look dead at all. I couldn’t imagine how the doctors did this impassively. I didn’t know these kids, and I know that people are getting their brains smashed on concrete every day of the week; but still, the proximate reality saddened me. I’m not sure how you can be optimistic about death. Later, eating lunch on Nimmanhaemin, I overheard a girl saying that she was bored of life and I thought, well, it’s got to be better than death: syringes thumped into your bladder, cold steel slicing your skin, while journalists check out your scars and look for signs of life with the futile hope that you might wake up. The thought that one day I will be a mass of flesh, without thought or feeling is hard to comprehend. Go on, take a good look at yourself and imagine yourself a corpse.

Dr Tanin then took us upstairs to the labs and I learnt how to find DNA in a piece of hair. The reading was about as vague as a brick wall. “There’s not much I can see there, I thought it might be more elaborate,” I said looking at the DNA chart. The doctor replied curtly, “That’s why we study.” A funny guy this doctor, I suppose a sense of humour IS pretty important in his line of work. Ollie and I walked out of the hospital, I couldn’t wait to get out of the place . . . everyone started looking like death.