I Got Your Number


the-bionic-woman-1-coverBy Elaine Viets

My body is special, and here’s why: It’s traceable from top to bottom.
Several winters ago, I slipped on the ice in St. Louis and wound up with a total hip replacement. I was recovering from the surgery in the hospital, floating on a fluffy morphine cloud. (Let me tell you, morphine is definitely my favorite drug. No wonder the docs take it away after three days.) Anyway, I was pushed off my morphine high when a pathologist friend called.

hospital-room“Congratulations on your hip replacement!” she said.
Huh? I didn’t see any reason to celebrate.
“No matter what happens,” she said, “if you’re murdered and buried in the woods, they’ll always be able to identify your headless body.”

6-olga-the-headless-ladyThat’s never been one of my top ten worries. But at the time, a serial killer was stalking the area, kidnapping women, cutting off their heads, and leaving their decomposing bodies in trash bags along the highway. Police were having trouble identifying the victims – many didn’t have fingerprints in the system.
But my hip replacement had a nice traceable number engraved in the titanium. Decomp would make no difference. I wasn’t a no body any more.
Fast forward twenty years. That’s when I had six strokes, including a hemorrhagic stroke, and brain surgery. (I’m fully recovered, thanks.) Brain surgery put me a head of most people. When the surgeon sawed open my skull, he held the pieces in with titanium doodads (that’s a medical term). Those are numbered, too.
I am now identifiable top to bottom.
If deer hunters stumble across my skull in the woods, or I wind up on a shelf in some serial killer’s basement, I’m no Jane Doe.

skullMost mystery writers struggle with body identification in their novels. Identifying the victim can slow down a fast-paced plot. Yes, there are dental records, but you need to know the victim’s name to match her to them. Her prints have to be in the system for those to work. And you have to know who she is already to confirm her identity with DNA.
Medical implants cut through that. You usually won’t find out the victim’s name in ten minutes. But implants can help you trace your victim faster. If you want to pick up the pace of your crime novel and have your victim ID’d quicker, consider giving her a medical implant: a knee implant, hip implant, a pacemaker or other cardiac device.

knee_replacementBreast implants are also numbered. Both kinds, saline-filled and silicone gel. So your unidentified woman – or man, for that matter – could be someone who wanted a larger chest. Or she could be a woman who had breast implants after a mastectomy or other reconstruction from an experienced surgeon.

breast-implantThe makers of medical implants sold in the US must list them with the FDA, and ME’s offices usually contact the manufacturer. It’s faster – but not lightning quick. The surgeon who used the implant may have closed his practice, and the records may be in storage. The hospital where the surgery took place may have the records on file.
Twenty years after I had a hip replacement, I had to track down the model and name of the device for an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon who’d performed the replacement was long gone – but the hospital had the records stored in the cloud.
They had my number.

viets-brainstorm-smallWin Brain Storm, my new Angela Richman Death Investigator mystery. TKZer PJ Parrish says, “Brain Storm has everything I love in crime fiction – complexity, intelligence, pretzel plotting, and a touch of dark humor.” To enter, click Contests at www.elaineviets.com

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book. www.elaineviets.com

20 thoughts on “I Got Your Number

  1. It always cracks me up how on TV crime shows they’ll pull out any info on anybody about as fast as you can snap your fingers.

    There’s another bonus to having replacement body parts. If someone kidnaps and tortures them to get vital national security information, they can just program themselves to recite the item # on their titanium piece (or whatever) ala the “name, rank and serial #”, thereby buying themselves some time to escape and engineer a scheme to foil the bad guys. 😎

  2. That’s fascinating, Elaine! Will use the info in this post for my WIP.

    I thought my artificial knees were only good for getting extra attention from the TSA 🙂

    • Ah, yes, TSA. We both get plenty of attention from them. Personally, I think I should get to choose the people who pat me down. Now you can work your personal experience into your writing.

  3. Great! Now we are going to have a WHOLE GENERATION of crime novels where the victims are instantly identified by serial numbers on their implants. Thanks a lot!
    Actually thanks for the idea. My minds already working… Can you smell the rubber burning?

  4. I remember thinking with the publication of “The Left Behind” series of novels about the Rapture and post-Rapture world, “What about the implants during the Rapture? Did the tooth fillings, breast implants, artificial knees and hips and teeth get left behind, clunking and thudding on the floor with the clothes when the bodies became spiritual beings and disappeared?
    I was also certain that I was missing the point of these books.
    Somebody probably has my spiritual number.
    Thanks for a good article.

  5. I know the bionic feeling. I’ve had an eye done, and earlier this year I had my right hip resurfaced. This is similar procedure to THR, but I have the top of my femur, it may last for life, and my activities aren’t limited (for the truly bored you can read my story at hipresurfacingwoman.com). I participate in an online forum for people who are considering/have had HR. A few months back one woman relayed her most recent TSA experience. I’m sharing it here only because I think you’ll find it amusing.

    “Flying home from a trip to Israel. It is August. Everyone is traveling. Maybe the Israelis are like the French and every one goes on vacation in August. The airport is crowded.

    Nonetheless, I zoom through the first security check, the one where you are asked questions. I travel light and don’t have any bags to check. I get to the metal detector and X-ray machine. As I have been doing for the least nine months, I warn the local TSA that I have metal hip implants and that I might set off the machine. There is no body scanner, so the officer tells me to walk through anyway. The metal detector goes off.

    A very young female TSA officer comes up and asks me if I have on a belt or have anything in my pockets. I tell her no, that I have metal hip implants. I expect to be wanded and/or patted down. That’s what usually happens. But no, she asks “Can you take them out?”

    Okay, it made me laugh. But I didn’t lose my cool. I replied “I can’t take them out because they are inside my body. I have metal hip joints.”

    “Can I see them?” she answered.

    Now her cohorts were also giggling. I wondered if I should drop my pants and show off my scars. Instead, I calmly replied “No, you can’t see them. They are inside my body. They are my new, metal hip joints.”

    Completely lost, the young screener said “I am going to call a supervisor.”

    She did and he stepped over, glanced at my passport, and waved me on.

    Next time I am bringing a picture of my X-rays!”

    • That’s hilarious. But the downside of medical metal is you do get pulled out of TSA lines. EVERY TIME. Of course, you can use that in your novel, too — as long as the person with the implants is alive and walking.

  6. When I had cataract surgery, I asked my ophthalmologist if my body could be ID’d from my lens implants. He blinked in surprise and said no one had ever asked him that before. The answer was no. The manufacturer does keep a record of who receives the lens implants in case of a recall, but they aren’t etched with ID numbers. Since the hero of my Safe Harbor Medical Mystery series is an obstetrician, I’m not sure he’d know that, but I figured that I should be on the safe side.

  7. Thanks for sharing this wonderful Post. This Post Very Informative. When I had cataract surgery, I asked my ophthalmologist if my body could be ID’d from my lens implants. He blinked in surprise and said no one had ever asked him that before.

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