And then a letter from the medical examiner’s office arrived that made me feel like I was standing in a rocking boat.
The letter informed me that the medical examiner’s office didn’t have DNA samples for Bruce.
As I read the letter, my thoughts came fast and furious:
Yes, you do.
Emily and I had our cheeks swabbed,
I gave you his toothbrush and dirty t-shirt. Squad 41 gave you items from Bruce’s locker. I can’t replace those items.
This is a mistake.
I read the next sentence of the letter with my mouth hanging open: “The following items may contain DNA: toothbrush, comb, clothing, chewed gum.”
Is this a joke?
Like, after four months, I have a piece of his chewed gum lying around.
As if this is junior high and it’s stuck under a desk somewhere.
Are you freakin’ kidding me?
I was so upset by the insensitivity of suggesting chewed gum that I spent the rest of my evening grumbling about the entire situation.
But even more upsetting was the thought that, after all this time, they had no record of his DNA—which meant that remains could not be positively identified.
I thought this had been taken care of months ago. I couldn’t believe the items I had provided had been lost or discarded somehow. I couldn’t go backwards. I just couldn’t.
The next morning, I dialed the medical examiner’s office. As I waited for someone to answer the phone, I felt my jaw clench and my body tense. Stay calm.
“Medical examiner’s office,” someone answered. It sounded like a young man.
“Good morning. My name is Ann Van Hine. My husband was one of the firefighters killed on September 11.”
“Sorry for your loss. How can I help you?”
“Yesterday, I received a letter saying you don’t have items to test for Bruce’s DNA,” I explained in a rather firm tone. “Well, you do.” In an even sterner voice I added, “Suggesting that chewed gum is good for DNA testing is beyond insensitive. My husband died four months ago—do you really think I have a piece of his chewed gum lying around?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t. That is a form letter.”
“I know it is a form letter, but it wasn’t appropriate. Come up with a new form. I can guarantee you that other September 11 family members are going to go even more ballistic than I just did. Please. Think. Think about what you’re sending before you send it!”
“Ma’am, if you give me your husband’s full name, I can check our record.”
He found nothing under Bruce’s name. I assured him I had definitely submitted DNA. He suggested calling the lab where Emily and I had our cheeks swabbed.
Instead, I called Christine and asked her to look into what had happened.
After a few telephone calls, Christine learned that in the aftermath of the attacks, more than one agency had established a database of information. A different agency did, indeed, have Bruce’s DNA, which we were able to get transferred to the medical examiner’s office.
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