Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Doc Haydon and the Fayette County Medical Examiner of 1879

The Fayette County Medical Examiner's Office no longer exists as an independent agency, but in 1877, when the office was founded, the medical examiner did not fall under the county coroner's office and there was no state medical examiner's office.

All we know about the office of medical examiner is that the county set aside the sum of $1000 as an annual payment for his services. The records of the board of commissioners states that the position would be filled by a trained physician who was a resident of the city of Lexington. The medical examiner was to investigate all unexplained deaths in the county and report his findings to the county coroner.

To me, the most interesting part of the commissioners' record was the authority given to the medical examiner. In the investigation of death the medical examiner was afforded the same dignity, respect, and immunity from suit given any judge in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In essence, the county created a position that was free to investigate without fear of legal reprisals.

I have no idea of who held the job, nor do I know whether the actual medical examiner was as forward thinking as Dr. Haydon. When I started writing the Fayette County Medical Examiner I didn't even call him Dr. Haydon. The fictional Dr. Haydon was created because my boss and dear friend Dr. Richard Haydon wanted to be the doctor in my book. Even explaining that the character I was writing drank heavily, loved to gamble, and was going to cut someone's throat before the end of the book did not deter him from wanting to be a part of my fictional world.

Gradually, the fictional character took on some of the traits of the real Dr. Richard Haydon. He is a man of science, someone who is pushing the city of Lexington toward the future. Like his 21st century counterpart, Doc Haydon loves the latest technology. Although there is no computer or electricity in his office, the modern fountain pens, typewriters, and cameras are his technological wonders.

Doc Haydon subscribes to the American Journal of Forensic Medicine, and most of the other top journals of his day. His office is a mess, but his mind is organized and focused on his work. He is fascinated by advances in science and engineering, and strives to incorporate the latest skills into his work. Doc Haydon doesn't assign blame, but chafes at the corruption in town, particularly the graft inside the police department. He yearns to see Lexington get the telephone and lobbies for a water company. Most of all, Doc Haydon delights in sharing his passion for learning with others. In this way he is most like his namesake.

The real Dr. Haydon lost his long battle with cancer on Sunday. In a few minutes I am going to be leaving to say good-bye to my dear friend. In the last few months of his life, he got a great deal of pleasure in showing Circle of Dishonor to his friends. I don't think he ever read the book. It didn't really matter. He was just happy to live on in my imagination. I am just happy to have had the chance to know him and work with him for more than a decade. Dr. Haydon was a wonderful teacher, a brilliant doctor, and a great friend. I miss him more than I say.


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