A LIFE AMONG THE DEAD

DR. HEINZ KARNITSCHNIG CUT HIS WAY THROUGH CORPSES AND RED TAPE

The pathologist who will perform the autopsy studies x-rays on the light board, pinpointing the location of the bullets. Within 20 minutes, the murder victim has been opened from throat to crotch, his entrails removed, examined and placed in a beet-red pile on an adjoining gurney. The hollow torso is a surprising, Technicolor vision of yellow, subcutaneous fat and white bone. The skin on the back of the head has been slit from ear to ear and the entire scalp and face peeled forward over the head like a rubber mask turned inside out. The hair that belongs at the nape of his neck now hangs near his chin like a beard. His cranium has been sawed off, the brain removed and the doctor is probing inside the skull for the bullets as if scooping out a coconut.

Nearby, an attendant lifts the body of a seven-month-old girl from a table like a Betsy Wetsy doll and places her on a scale. She was beaten to death during the night.

Man is a very brutal animal," sighs Karnitschnig.

ON THE SIXTH DAY of this year, Heinz Karnitschnig tendered his resignation. He has always given good memo, the sort of sharply worded missives that get circulated around government offices by an underground network of secretaries with bad attitudes.

It would be out of character were I not to tell you some additional reasons for my walking away from a job that for many years I enjoyed immensely," he wrote that day. And then he numbered his reasons:

1. Deja vu once too often [for several paragraphs he rants about the constant demands to cut staff and costs despite a growing workload].

2. Suffocation under dead trees. A distended bureaucracy in an attempt to justify its existence spews forth reams of paper filled with flummery, e.g., a memorandum advising you of an enclosed memorandum and instructing you what to do with it.

3. Management by innocents. ...
4. `Instruction' by acolytes. While barely able to get our work done, we spend untold hours in meetings where trendy phrases worthy of a Japanese automobile prospectus are hurled about with great abandon and gusto by acolytes with the shining eyes of the true believer. At one such meeting, professionals with decades of experience questioned new dogma and were told by a young management- school graduate: `Trust me. ...'

Enough of the mutterings of an elderly grump."
Since the resignation, he has poked fun viciously. He returned from a vacation to find a staggering load of autopsies and that employees were ill and out of the office, and while he was up to his elbows in body cavities the telephone rang insistently, demanding that he turn in his scheduled management report or bullet"-short for bulletin." He sarcastically dashed off, I returned yesterday from a two-week skiing vacation in New Mexico. I am tanned and had a good time." The paper-pushers in the County Manager's Office were not amused and memos flew.

On another occasion, he received a photocopied invitation that had been designed on someone's Macintosh computer asking him to witness" the unveiling of the Maricopa County Corporate Strategic Plan and BE PRESENT AS A PAGE IN MARICOPA COUNTY HISTORY IS MADE!" Gleefully he penned a bogus press release in response: Dr. K witnessed history being made, when, on January 27, 1992, he and many fellow apparatchiks were present at the unveiling of Maricopa County's `Perestroika in the Sun.' `I haven't been so moved since the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989,' he said." His superiors either didn't get the humor or didn't think it was funnyÏor just didn't want to spar with him linguistically. Karnitschnig speaks and writes English better than most native speakers.

He is a man of considerable ego-his scrapbook is the size of a coffee table, and its first page displays a collection of letters he received with his name misspelled. (One vintage envelope from the Arizona Highway Patrol is also imprinted with the message Fight Communism.") And he is a daunting opponent who will not suffer fools. Once in court, Karnitschnig says, a hot young lawyer was trying to intimidate him. You don't like me, do you?" the lawyer asked aggressively.

No, I don't," Karnitschnig snapped back.
Why not?" the lawyer pressed. Because you're wasting my time." The courtroom tittered and the lawyer lost momentum. Later the judge took the young buck into chambers and told him he'd forgotten the first thing he was taught in law school-not to ask questions for which he didn't already know the answers.

Karnitschnig has been forceful with his superiors as well. In 1983, when the Board of Supervisors refused to let him hire replacements for two mortuary attendants who had quit, he shut down the morgue at night and on weekends. Ordinarily the office stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but he didn't feel he could keep his staff on double shifts. His memo was quite graphic: Nor does one have to be a forensic pathologist to know that dead people don't move from stretcher to table and back on their own, do not undress themselves and do not oblige you by assuming various positions so that you can properly examine their bullet holes or stab wounds," he wrote. ÔDead people have to be lifted and pulled and pushed and the heavier they are the more muscle power is needed. Finally, one doesn't have to be a management expert to realize that once you have a rigid 200-pound cadaver precariously perched on its side to undress and examine it you had better not let go of it to answer the telephone or to open the back door."

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