Pat Brown never knows when his day will start. He might get a full eight hours of sleep, or three.
One December Tuesday night would be a long one as Brown, the Calhoun County coroner, was called to Regional Medical Center to pick up the body of a 6-year-old boy.
Three Anniston police officers stood outside a locked door in the emergency room. Nurses went in and out, carrying tools and syringes, used in an effort to save the boy. Brown stretched brown latex gloves over his hands and examined the boy.
“It’s unfortunate when they are that young,” he said.
The boy’s palms were turned upward, his blue and white shoes sat at the edge of the bed. The laces were untied. His mother, grandmother and extended family sat in a small room around a corner and down the hall from where the boy’s body lay. Each person clutched tissues, while a hospital employee held the mother’s hand and patted her back.
Brown stepped into the room, and squatted down in front of the boy’s mother.
“We have to send him for an autopsy because of his age, but we are going to let you see him,” Brown said.
Brown explained to the family what happened — a complication from a health problem — crouching to avoid seeming overbearing.
“I get below their eye level,” he said later. “It is less intimidating.”
At a time when a family is suffering the most, Brown said, he tries to do everything he can to be helpful.
“This event makes a monument in their life,” he said. “Everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 happened. That family will forever remember where they were when I told them what happened to their baby. I try not to add to the negativity of this monument.”
Working in the middle of the night and delivering terrible news to family members are not aspects of the job Brown enjoys.
“This is more than a job for me though,” he said. “This is who I am.”
Brown’s interest in the medical field began at a young age.
“When I was growing up, you’d maybe see an ambulance once a month,” Brown said while running errands for the job earlier in the month. “It was intriguing. Now you see them all the time.”
Brown, now 46, was born and raised in Calhoun County, graduating from Saks High School in 1987. After graduating from Gadsden State Community College in 1993 as a paramedic, Brown started working as an Anniston Fire Department paramedic three years later.
Shortly after becoming the EMS program director at Gadsden State, Brown decided to run for coroner in 2006.
“I’ve always been a worker,” he said. “It seemed like a good fit because it seemed like the next progression in my career.”
In 2007, when Brown showed up for his first day as coroner, his office was cold, with concrete flooring and an exposed ceiling, he said.
“You could see all the electrical work in the ceiling,” he said.
Three desks currently sit in the main office area in the basement of a brick building next to the Calhoun County Courthouse. Underneath the stairs, a small closet holds files and various paperwork.
In a room adjacent from the file closet is the morgue. A cooler takes up the majority of the room. Two gurneys and a shelf with space for three were inside the cooler where the little boy’s body lay before it was taken to Huntsville for an autopsy.
“We keep a bucket of charcoal in here to absorb some of the odor,” Brown said.
The majority of Brown’s day is spent on “peripheral tasks,” he said.
“On average we have five to 10 calls for bodies a week, but the majority of the day is spent making contact with families,” he said. “There is nothing I can do for the deceased, but I try to be available for the families for whatever questions they may have.”
Brown argues that despite his job, he is just like everyone else. At the end of the night he drives to the nearest restaurant, a McDonald’s, and orders a hamburger after a long night at work.
“Just like anybody else,” he said.