Medicolegal Death Investigator
Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team
Brian Applegate got his start working at a funeral home transporting bodies, and was soon assisting during autopsies under the direction of a very cool doctor who cut up corpses while rocking out to the Misfits and the Dead Kennedys. Brian's considerable aptitude for the field has kept him in high demand: For a long while he split his time between OHSU (where he ran the autopsy lab), the medical examiner's office (where he performed criminal forensic autopsies), and local hospitals. He hooked up with Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team in 2001, just in time to sort through remains in lower Manhattan. A music fanatic, Brian also fronts Portland's favorite new-wave duo the Punk Group and is the foremost collector of Devo memorabilia on EARTH.
What are the hours like on a mass catastrophe job?
We're there for two weeks and we work 12- to 14-hour days. Then we rotate out.
Is it all autopsies?
It's a lot of recovery work out in the field. I'm qualified to do recovery, identification, and autopsies.
So for 9/11, you were ID-ing fingers?
I had to log in all the stuff that came in. Head. Torso. Right arm connected to the shoulder connected to the head. Penis.
Do you think having such an intimacy with death affects you?
It's solidified what I already know. We all die, so there's no reason to get upset about any one thing, because in the long run, none of it matters. I'm probably one of the most easygoing guys out there.
Are there certain cases that do shake you up? Children? Friends?
No. Usually when I've seen friends come in, I think, "This person was never sober." A lot of people die as a result of their own actions. For me to get misty about that... I see it all the time.
How do you feel about embalming and death rituals?
They're absurd. You have a body that's dead. You want to pump it full of chemicals and put it in a box that costs as much as an automobile and then put it in the ground, taking up valuable countryside? Graveyards and golf courses should be done away with.
Or maybe combined. The headstones would make for a challenging game.
Yeah. Bank it off Mr. So-and-so.
Do you have a plan for your own death? Would you be pissed if you were embalmed?
Somebody could put a party hat on meand put a kazoo up my ass. I don't give a shit—I'm dead.