By Natasha Lebedeva, Booking Producer
It was an unforgettable week in Louisville, Kentucky, in the middle of February. We were covering the work of the Louisville medical examiner's office and the death cases that occurred within that week. One of the scary things for me, frankly, was to see a dead body and to see an autopsy performed on it.
There is this public fascination with autopsies and unraveling the mysteries of death, which may have started with TV crime and hospital dramas. There is also an expectation that medical examiners may be able to perform miracles overnight, that pathologists in the mortuary may be able to give instant answers to police officers and family members about the cause of death.. As it turned out, it doesn't happen like that in real life and in real-life autopsies.
On our first day in Louisville, we went to the spacious autopsy room. The metal dissecting table had the body on it. The clippers, chisel, hammer and knives, were all laid out orderly next to the table. A peculiar smell was in the air, at first shocking, making you dizzy and a bit sick. However, surprisingly so, you get used to things, even the most unbelievable ones, rather quickly.
After a few autopsies you grow to understand that it's somehow normal and natural. We can learn from the bodies and find out what happened, though not instantly perhaps. It might require more testing over many days. You just realize that autopsies are a part of the process to get answers. Wondering if the deceased really had a disease, really died of natural causes? Only an autopsy will tell you. Confused about how someone died? An autopsy might tell you if some abnormality is to blame.
I've watched autopsies, and the experience was somewhat inspiring. It's clear that the body is only a shell after death, and you can learn a lot about what happened from the body.
'Dead Men Talking' airs on Dateline NBC Monday night, Aug. 20, at 10 p.m. ET.
Several members of the Dateline team reflected on their experience with the Louisville medical examiner's office. Read producer Fred Rothenberg's story about a late night phone call here, senior producer Maia Samuel's story on dealing with dead bodies here, and assistant producer Chetna Purohit's story about a tragic fire here.