x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Road accidents keep morgue busy

A post-mortem examination is carried out on every person who dies in Abu Dhabi and the overwhelming majority are traffic fatalities.

Police attend a car accident outside the Etihad headquarters in Abu Dhabi's airport district.
Police attend a car accident outside the Etihad headquarters in Abu Dhabi's airport district.

Dr Adnan Abbas sees every dead body in Abu Dhabi. As a forensic pathologist and the head of the death section at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, he is required to perform post-mortem or external examinations on every person who dies in the emirate - and most of them are victims of road crashes. The morgue at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City is a small, sand-coloured building behind the centre for preventive medicine. In its main room, up to 54 bodies can be held in the refrigerator. Autopsies and external examinations take place in smaller rooms. The building is impeccably clean, despite the messy work that goes on here.

It is still the early hours of the morning but Dr Abbas has already performed external examinations on the bodies of two of the four dead men on his schedule, all of whom were killed on the road. Of the two who arrived this morning, both are Pakistani, though one has not yet been identified. The identification of the other could not have been easy without photographic identification. Dr Abbas pulls back the bloody white sheet covering the body to reveal the face of a young man. Still wearing a blood-soaked brown salwar kamiz, his eyes open but glazed over, this man's brain arrived in a separate bag from the rest of his fractured body.

Dr Abbas says people need to know how violent deaths from car crashes really are. If they do, they might be more careful on the road. "The head was compacted; probably between the force of the car and the earth," the doctor says. The injuries killed the man immediately. The two other bodies were brought in after another violent car accident. It happened at Airport Road and 19th Street; one car hit another so hard it was pushed off the overpass onto a taxi on the road below. The result: two men, a 24-year-old and 19-year-old, dead.

"Massive head injury, chest fracture, laceration in the knee," the doctor says, moving different parts of the body of the 19-year-old Egyptian's corpse. "These are common injuries in traffic accidents for people in the car. This man was a passenger." Dr Abbas has been doing this for more than 15 years; for him, this is a science; the nature of the injuries gives him clues as to how exactly a person died.

"When pedestrians are hit, their legs are hit first, then the head. Their lower bodies shatter." After going over the entire body, identifying what is broken, crushed, swollen and missing, he pulls the white sheet back over the body and pushes the stainless steel slab on which it lies back into the refrigerator. "I see victims of road traffic accidents every day. "If you come back tomorrow, there will be more," he says, pulling off the blue rubber gloves he wears when working in the morgue.

"Now, if you will excuse me, I have to fill out some forms." He walks towards the back room, where a stack of papers sits on a pile of coffins. At the other side of the building, through the door which separates the examination and storage rooms from the waiting area, the Egyptian man's family and friends are sitting, waiting to hear from the doctor. The father can hardly speak through his tears. His son, he says, wanted to be a pilot and was studying at aviation school.

A younger man stands outside the morgue's entrance. The deceased was his best friend and his roommate. They shared everything, he says. "I feel shocked. I can't believe this. "I will miss him so much." For those in the waiting room, it is one of the worst days imaginable. On the other side of the doors, Dr Abbas is almost finished the paperwork needed to repatriate the remains of dead expatriates. For him, today is like any other. Business as usual.