The Story of a... Medical Examiner

To Dr. Jan C. Garavaglia, 54, Orange-Osceola’s chief M.E. and TV’s ‘Dr. G,’ death is the ultimate puzzle.

Dr. Jan Garavaglia with pruning shears, her tool of choice for cutting through ribs

Photo By Norma Lopez Molina

I actually was going to go into psychiatry because I loved abnormal human behavior. But once I started doing my rotations in psychiatry... at Mass[achusetts] General I realized I liked abnormal human behavior but from afar. So when I started thinking about it, there’s nothing that tells me more about abnormal human behavior, and actually normal human behavior, than this job.

One of the reasons I went into forensic pathology is I don’t have to listen to complaints.

The fact that people can’t tell me their symptoms—they can’t tell me what they were doing right before they died—just adds to the puzzle of me trying to figure out what happened to them.

There is no shock value for me with death. My job is to speak for the dead. I don’t do any good for the dead if I’m shocked by them. I don’t do any good for the dead if I’m grieving for them. The only way I can do any good for them is to stay objective and try to find out answers.

If you die suddenly and unexpectedly. If you die from any type of trauma. If you die from suspicious means. If nobody knows why you died. All of those have to be reported to me.

I’m always very happy when people come in here smelling good. I have people die while taking a shower. But there are others who don’t smell so sweet. They’re green and they’re bloated and they weigh 200 pounds and there is rotting flesh. The smell doesn’t bother me.

I don’t speak about anything about Caylee Anthony prior to the trial.
One of the things I care deeply about is showing a lot of respect for the people who come through here. They had no choice in the matter for the most part.

I really don’t watch [the CSI TV shows]. . . . They glamorize the job and it isn’t a glamorous job. I don’t think they portray what we do.

I have gotten letters from people who watch my show [Dr. G: Chief Medical Examiner] saying I have saved their lives. I get letters from people in rehab who didn’t know that cocaine could kill you in so many ways. I say, ‘Duh.’ I get people writing letters who say they took their last drink after watching a show.

My niche TV audience is women. . . . If I’m at the grocery store, I get recognized every time I go.

I see dead people every day. What are you talking about? [In response to a question that borrowed the famous line from the movie The Sixth Sense.]

What this job has taught me is life is finite. I see those last chapters of people’s lives. It makes you think how my life is going to be written. Because you can die at any moment, I want the last chapter to be filled with happiness.

I make a little under $200,000 a year [as chief medical examiner].

When you’re applying to medical school, don’t tell them you want to be a forensic pathologist. There is still a bias against us. . . . We don’t cure people.

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