Walking Through Death: A Trip to the Hospital and Morgue
If you have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI,) chances are that you will have to participate in the Hospital and Morgue Program (HAM,) which is one of many different activities that offenders must complete, as ordered by the court. Using the "HAM" acronym is almost as stomach-churning as the actual program can be for many, but like the program itself, it definitely leaves an impression. If the program discourages drinking and driving, it also probably won't boost pork sales.
While many participating in the program are there because they are under orders from the court and must pay about $200 to enroll, it is interesting to note that the program is open to the public for free on a voluntary basis. Hey, that's a great cheap date idea!
The program consists of two separate site visits. The first takes place at a participating county hospital, and includes an overall lecture and presentation from an experienced member of the ER staff, including slideshows of horrific accidents related to drunk driving and demonstrations of the emergency techniques that are necessary in such situations. The procedures are explained in detail by trained EMT's, who also offer their own real-life experiences.
For the hospital portion of the program, I visited White Memorial Medical Center in East Los Angeles. Our main speaker presented several gruesome and disturbing images from scenes of deadly accidents caused by drunk driving. There were also detailed demonstrations of what would have to be done to help a person stay alive in these situations (life-like dolls were used.) While many of the descriptions and images were graphic and upsetting, this was balanced out by an overall message from our main speaker that life's moments, big and small, are really gifts to be cherished, because these moments can be gone in an instant, without warning or indication. I also took away a sense of hope in the event of a sudden trauma, and I was reminded of the strong human will to survive.
In contrast, visiting the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office/Morgue definitely had a much darker way of relaying a similar message. Prior to my visit to the morgue, the only upfront sights of the finality of death that I had experienced were the meticulously prepared and preserved bodies of relatives that had passed away, mostly due to non-violent, natural causes. One thing for sure, death does not discriminate. The bodies, in various stages of decay, had once belonged to living Caucasians, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, all with distinct personalities and cultural backgrounds. But in the morgue, frequently with evidence of trauma, the bodies lay there motionless and without dignity, at the mercy of the personnel who were processing them or removing their once-vital organs with a certain cold efficiency. Breathing in the unmistakable stench of death that filled each room and corridor, I looked around at the anonymous bodies and wondered who they once were and how they died. What once may have been vibrant physical beings were now reduced to soul-less slabs of meat on cold steel.
Upon leaving the morgue, I did reflect upon how grateful I am to simply be alive. However, knowing that death comes for all of us at one time or another, I was specifically reminded of the fact that, at the very least, I do not want my death to be the result of self-destructive and careless actions akin to what I was doing in prior years of heavy drinking which had lead me to this place. And I reflected once again upon the gifts that I am blessed with, among them a loving and supportive girlfriend, two great step-sons, and my baby boy and girl. Now that I have gone over four years without alcohol, I only hope to continue to live my life well enough to help provide the best life for all of them.
In short, I would say that the Hospital and Morgue program provided a sort of one-two punch of attitude adjustment. The hospital portion left me with an appreciation of the many blessings there are in life to be appreciated, while touring the morgue left a stark reminder of how fragile the gift of life truly is and of the seemingly omni-present hand of death that is there knocking at the door in one form or another. When and how we open that door, and the mystery of what lies beyond, leaves much to be cherished in this life.