It was a mid-winter evening when my brother called. "Mike, can you give me hand tonight?" My brother, Dan, was recently state-licensed and getting his career on track. "It'll take less than fifty minutes...please." Now the preciseness of "fifty minutes" intrigued me; but the "please" cinched it. "Okay," I said.
In no time Dan arrived and off we went. His car was a black, full-size station wagon with darkened windows and no back seats. "Don't need 'em," Dan said, "no one sits back there."
I should explain that Dan was a fresh graduate from the Milwaukee School of Mortuary Science. He was supplementing his day job with this moonlighting endeavor. He contracted to make pick ups for funeral homes that were too busy or understaffed.
"Mike, I need help with the new gurney." Now this gurney was a flattened stretcher that opened up with wheels and all when it was pulled out of the car and the reverse happened when it was pushed back in. "It's easier to operate with two people...when no one's on it," Dan explained.
Within a short time, Dan pulled in and parked near some double doors behind the hospital. He opened the back of the wagon and I pushed the apparatus from inside as he pulled from the rear. Like some space-aged machinery, it released itself into a gleaming stretcher complete with shiny chrome legs, large rubber wheels, and loads of high-tech straps. "How long will you be?" I asked.
"This won't take us any time at all," he said.
Now the pronoun "us" stood out and caught me off guard. I thought I was needed to help with the stretcher, I wasn't prepared to go any further.
"Mike, the elevator's a bit tricky."
So along I went. The elevator down didn't seem to be a problem and when the door split open, dead cold hit me in the face. We were in the morgue. Before I had a chance to protest and exit, Dan handed some papers to an attendant who led us to a shoulder-high steel drawer which he then slid out. Yikes!
Facing me, just mere inches away, was a large, white ID tag twist-tied to the big toe of a set of toes followed by, in correct anatomical order, the rest of the deceased.
I said nothing. I lacked words for the situation. First, I had assumed that a dead person is dressed. Wrong. Second, I had never touched anything dead without at least a stick and no stick was available here. Third, and this was the all important question: What was I doing ?
Robot-like, I grabbed my end and carefully lifted the stiffened load onto the stretcher. Dan covered and secured the body with Velcro straps and solid buckles. Up the elevator, outside, into the car...done!
"Mike, I won't need you back at the funeral home. I can drop you off on the way...but what do say we stop and get something to eat?"
My voice and words finally returned. "No, not really hungry."
"Not even for a free cheeseburger, fries, and a shake?"
"No, not even, just...drop me off."