Groove is in the Heart…. Part 2

Sadly, each year a number of young people will pass away. It’s not uncommon in the mortuary to have a patient who is under 30 but an adult. Obviously there are a number of reasons young people could die, but in my time at the mortuary (either when on my work placement or in the last few weeks) I have seen hearts be sent off to an organisation called CRY. I thought I would highlight their existence by writing a little bit about them and their work.

CRY stands for Cardiac Risk in the Young and was founded in 1995. Primarily what they work to achieve is to improve diagnosis and treatment of cardiac problems in the under 35s. CRY support young people who have been diagnosed with heart problems by creating groups for them to discuss their concerns and information for the treatment they might receive. They also help support the families which have lost a young person to a cardiac issue. They fund and support research into cardiac problems and organise screening sessions to diagnose these problems. Their work is hugely important and makes a big difference to those affected.

As I mentioned, in the mortuary I am working in I have witnessed hearts be sent to CRY to be looked at by the experts there. This relates to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, which is known by many other terms but will generally means the death is uncertain or unexplained. Although we have come very far with medicine and treatment over time, there are of course areas that are still very much unknown and rightly demanding funding to expand research and knowledge. This is one of them for certain. It is believed to be an issue with the heart, but no one is certain what that problem is.

CRY state on their website that 12 young people in the U.K. die every week due to undiagnosed heart problems, yet I would assume a lot of people would have never heard of them or know barely anything about their work. I would ask people to please consider donating to CRY or raising money for them if participating in a sponsored event.

Thank you for reading my articles! If you like, just take a moment to consider your heart to feel it beating and appreciate it working away 24/7 without you having to even think about it!

If you’ve had your interest sparked in this area or would like to read more, please see the below links-

CRY main website

Bhf website 

Also, my friend Adam is running the London Marathon next year for BHF (British Heart Foundation) and has had his own history of heart problems and ongoing monitoring. If you’re feeling generous click the below link and sponsor him!

MG x

Groove is in the Heart… Part 1

This week I got a bit obsessed with the human heart. It’s a bloody wonderful and powerful little thing we often take for granted until it malfunctions or stops. I had the great opportunity to watch another pathologist work again this week. I’ve discovered there’s more than one way to not only eviscerate (they like the organs removed in a few different ways) but also to then examine said organs. This pathologist has a very methodical approach which I liked; she also very kindly talked me through what she was doing once she realised I was watching her. I never like to assume it’s okay to watch, but I’m also too scared to ask. So if I’ve not got urgent work to do like the cleaning, I’ll hover nearby until they say it’s fine to go and watch!

So back to the heart. The heart is a muscle, which means if it has to work harder due to your size or lifestyle it will grow. However, this is not one muscle you want to get toned and bulgy. By working harder and growing, it’s walls thicken and this is not good for your ventricles to get your blood around your body. If too thick, this can be noted as a cause of death on your death certificate. During post mortem your whole heart is weighed too, and if too big then this can also be noted as a cause of death. The pathologist told me this is 500g, anything above this is enlarged. 

There are three main arteries that are examined during post mortem too, to see if they are blocked. If they are too congested, this is (you guessed it) a cause of death worthy of note on your death certificate. All in all, the heart needs to be healthy to function which we all know, but it is incredible to see a heart that is not and the differences between them.

All in all, if you have a heart displaying the above features and you’re alive, that’s when you get chest pain which is known as angina. Too bad and you will require heart bypass surgery, or a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG or Cabbage). When I was told a scar on someone’s leg was a ‘cabbage scar’ I couldn’t have been more confused until they told me what is was. This surgery involves either changing the connections of the arteries in the heart to go around the blockage or taking an artery from your leg and putting it in your heart around the blockage. It’s an in depth process but most people will know someone who has had to go through it. It’s not an uncommon surgery at all. I was curious so I googled how much this surgery would cost without healthcare in the US… $70,000 minimum. 

To be continued… 

MG x 

Eau de Mortuary 

It is a truth universally acknowledged by all tube commuters that some people are just plain stinkier than others. Stinkier and less pleasant to be stuck under the armpit of. Bad smells were not something I thought I would exactly escape by going to work in the mortuary, although I don’t get the tube anymore and I do now cycle to work. Did I mention before that I cycle to work? I feel like I mention it a lot, that I cycle to work now (just so you know, it gives me an annoying smugness I can only apologise for).

Yep, the mortuary smells. There is the all round quite pleasant smell of the actual mortuary. I mean, it smells like chemicals and vaguely of something I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s not offensive. Then, in contrast for example, there could be the smell of a decomposed person who’s not been found for a while. While everyday there’s just scents which challenge your senses for a number of possible reasons. I did learn one thing these last few weeks about smells. They are a source of some humour, quite dark humour for mortuary workers, and you never get used to them. The smells, not the mortuary workers, that is. 

I always thought that anyone who’s been working in this kind of environment would be totally used to any smell that might happen. I also thought that although I was disgusted at first, I would eventually become at ease with the offputting smells that happen here. Maybe even used to them and then nothing could possibly offend me.

I have since learnt that it would appear no matter how many years you have been in this line of work, you can still get seriously grossed out from time to time. To the point of gagging. I can’t and will never go into any specific details around what I see each day, I don’t feel that it is appropriate to go into very much detail about any of it for different reasons. However, I’ve witnessed a few times when a smell has made colleagues stop what they are doing. I’ve had the ‘step back and breathe shallow’ kind of moment myself, even one time when I was looking over my shoulder at intervals while working to breathe less stinky air. In addition to this, I recently overheard my boss on the phone say to potential mortuary visitors to eat before they come down as having an empty stomach won’t help with dealing with the smells. That’s not something I had ever thought of, probably more owing to the fact I rarely have an empty stomach (read that as I like food, a lot). 

None of this has not put me off one bit however, it’s not taken away the enjoyment or fascination with my role. Like I say above, it’s an aspect which is laughed about and people almost bond over. It’s also something which by now I know I will encounter every day and just take in my stride, although I know that I will certainly be surprised on many occasions going forward by an array of smells. 

I’ll leave you with two final points I’d like to end on. Firstly, the worst smell I’ve encountered so far? I think it comes from washing down the post mortem tables after they’ve been used. Something about the warm water and blood mixing creates this strong metallic smell I really find, though not unbearable, quite oddly unsettling. Secondly, after one of my first days in the mortuary I got home and convinced myself my fridge in my kitchen smelt like death. I was so paranoid I’d somehow taken the smell home or something, until I realised that the smell is just refrigeration. I’d just never really acknowledged that refrigeration had a smell before. 

Like, share, comment and get in contact if any of those things take your fancy! 

MG x 

And I’m Wondering What I’m Doing in a Room Like This

Week three in the mortuary is complete, and it’s been eventful. For a brilliant start, this blog hit 850 views and that is so incredible. Thank you so very much for reading, following and supporting me. In other news, this week had me attending Corporate Induction at the hospital, doing numerous online courses, and some systems training too. It was very strange leaving the relative calm of the mortuary and our small team, to go and sit in a room full of 105 people. I was grateful that the induction didn’t start with the usual ‘tell us your name and an interesting fact about yourself’ with that number of people, but it did contain a lot of very interesting information about the hospital trust and the hard work they have been doing. It made me more excited to be working with this trust, and help in their cause to become an outstanding hospital. The online courses were a necessary hardship I struggled through for what seemed like hours (it probably was to be fair) and saw me taking breaks to do things like empty the bins or restock glove boxes. Glad that it’s all done for a while!

One thing that really stood out for me in this training was the emphasis on empathising and thinking about the people around you. We were told to always imagine you are stood in other people’s shoes and experiencing what they are experiencing. They also said that you can never know what all the people you walk past in a hospital are going through. They might have just had a baby, or been told they are clear of their illness, but they might also have just lost someone or been told some bad news. I have been an advocate of being kind to everyone for a long time, just because someone smiles on the outside does not mean they are not going through something completely unenviable elsewhere in their life. 

This is hugely important to remember while working in the mortuary. We will often speak to and meet people at some of the hardest points of their life. Whether this means answering the phone to someone wanting to visit a relative recently deceased, or meeting them when they come to visit, it is important that the mortuary staff are sympathetic, understanding and, at all times, respectful to those we meet. I am yet to start greeting and helping the visitors from the public to the mortuary and I haven’t yet answered the phone to a relative either. I have answered the phone, but usually to either wrong numbers or funeral directors, much to my relief. I’ve stressed and worried a great deal about what to say to people and I’ve asked my colleagues for advice, but they just tell me that they can’t tell me what to say; that in the moment you find the right words. I’m just terrified I won’t.

I realise that in the end, it will just be a case of being confronted with these situations that will give me the confidence that I can do this, and deep down I am perfectly capable of doing this. You might have seen on Twitter that my face is now with the other team members on the poster on the wall for everyone to see as they enter the mortuary. I am so proud to be part of this team and to have worked my way to be here. Slowly but surely I am determined to and will become efficient and confident in what I am doing here.

On that note, I have been discussing with my manager the possibility of arranging a Death Cafe. For those who don’t know, a Death Cafe is basically arranging a safe space for those to discuss death while drinking tea and, usually, eating cake. They are not intended to be a bereavement service, or grief counselling, but to discuss some of the questions people have or topics people are curious about around death in an open way. In the same vein as the Death Positivity movement I wrote about previously, the intention is to talk more openly about death to lessen the taboo and to make us all enjoy our lives a little more. We don’t have any idea about how or when we will be doing this yet, I have read the guide and plan on attending another Death Cafe in November to find out more. However, if you think this is something you would be interested in attending please do get in contact either on here, or via social media. I would love to hear from you!

Before I sign off, Wednesday this week I went to see one of my musical heroes Gary Numan live and it was simply amazing. I’ve included a photo I took on the night above, and the main title of this article come from his song Are ‘Friends’ Electric; it seemed appropriate thinking about my own doubts of my capabilities, and also around the possible stigma of attending an event like a Death Cafe. 

It should go without saying by now, but please do like, share, comment and get in contact if you have anything you would like to discuss.
MG x

Sweetcorn, Foie Gras & the Flu Jab 

Week two is done and dusted, and I’m more confident than ever that I’ve found the career I always wanted. I summarised my week to a friend via text message today and it went as follows ‘Honestly I have no idea where to start…’. That’s still very much the feeling, but apart from a sweetcorn related occurrence (I will leave that one to your imagination), one thing particularly stood out for me that I experienced this week. 

On Wednesday there was a slight issue with coverage of all the tasks that needed to happen, and one of them was completing the pathologist’s notes while she conducted the post-mortems. Before I really thought about it I heard myself say ‘Would I be able to do the Doctor’s notes?’, to which the APTs both said ‘Sure!’. So that’s how I found myself in the viewing gallery above the metal workbench where the pathologist was conducting the post-mortems of four individuals. 

This process is really interesting. The APT is there to complete the evisceration of the patient, in other words remove all the organs. Then the pathologist looks at these organs, provides a cause of death if one can be ascertained and then the APT puts the organs back in the patient and stitches them up. That’s a very basic run through, there’s a lot more involved but that’s for another day. 

My role on Wednesday was to write down all the notes the pathologist needed for each patient so she could put together her final notes after. I was provided with an A4 sheet for each patient which was already filled out with their external remarks and details; all I had to do was note down what the doctor said about each organ or body part and the weight measurements she took. Lucky for me the pathologist made this a very painless and enjoyable process, showing me in detail why she was saying each note and also pointing out to me where I should be writing things if I couldn’t find them on the sheet! I found it fascinating and so exciting, I could feel myself leaning further and further forward on the side of the gallery to get a better look at what she was doing. It helped she also kindly spelled out any of the longer medical terms I wasn’t familiar with, and I was pleasantly surprised that even something could gross her out- she really doesn’t like pus. 

Afterwards I took my notes, once one of the APTs had photocopied them for our records, and gave them back to the doctor for her to write up her findings. I was sillily chuffed to bits that she complimented my handwriting! Two things I will remember clearly from this experience (other than the above), firstly that sometimes when she found a possibly cause of death she would exhibit the dark humour I am becoming accustomed to in this situation and say something like ‘Oh there is a heart to die for!’. Secondly, one particular liver caused a lively discussion about how terrible the foie gras production business is. Amazing. 

The photo below has an example of one of these sheets, all the scribbling on this is my practice beforehand and a colleague showing me how it works, it does not relate to any patient at all. The photograph of me overlaying the sheet is one taken for a poster showing all the mortuary staff. I think I look a bit scary and quite orange, but I’ve certainly looked worse. Funnily I look a lot worse on my actual staff pass where somehow I’m not even looking at the camera. 

One last thing for this week, I had my flu jab on Thursday as I do every year (although working in a hospital they give you free stuff which is always nice, you know my love of free stuff knows no bounds) and I would like to encourage you to do the same if you would like to. It’s important to curb the spread of the flu each year as it can seriously impact the elderly and the young, or people with medical conditions. You can really help, and I think a lot of the time you can get it for free or for a small fee. 

That’s all for this week, comment, like and share if you fancy doing any of that as always. Feel free to ask questions and have a great weekend. 

MG x 

Week One: What not to say… and when!

There’s something I’ve realised this week and especially over the weekend it’s become very apparent. I have no filter regarding when it’s okay to talk about my work and when it’s not, but let me elaborate on my week and what I mean by that.
I had a really great first five days at the mortuary, mainly because so much happened that even everyone else said it was a good week to start. There was a post-mortem on someone who was in a state of decomposition, so in other words had been dead for long enough that they had started to visibly decompose before they were found. The mortuary got busier this week and we found ourselves nearing capacity in the main fridges so had to activate one of the other fridges and move people to make room. We also had a post-mortem on someone who was, what is known as, ‘bariatric’ which means they were considered ‘obese’. This posed some complications around how to conduct the different processes that are more straightforward on an average sized person. In addition we had another patient who had suspected tuberculosis so the APT was able to put into action what we had learnt from the conference last week.

Further to all of that, there was a forensic post-mortem taking place on one day which means that we end up with a lot more people in attendance and it’s a much more in depth and lengthier process. All in all a very exciting week and I got to see a lot more than I expected, all while trying to learn the basics of how the deceased are received into the mortuary and ‘booked in’ as well as the other general checks that are part of my job. I’m not going to lie, after all of that and I also began cycling to work this week, I was completely shattered on Friday night, but it was a good and accomplished feeling kind of tired! 

Back to what I was saying at the start, obviously I am not able to talk about the real details with you or anyone, but certain aspects or things I have learnt this week pop randomly in my head and I’ll blurt them out at highly inappropriate times. Or what is inappropriate to other people, but it’s clearly not to me. Like beginning to talk about internal organs when my partner looks at me, points at the Chinese we are eating and says ‘Can you not, please?!’. Or mentioning tuberculosis and what happens to your insides to a friend who looks disgusted and politely asks me to stop. It seems I need to learn to gauge the conversation better, particularly that most people don’t like discussing disgusting topics while they are eating.

I really should have already figured that one out to be fair. 

Questions and comments welcome as per usual, let me know your thoughts! 

MG x 

A Newbie’s Experience of the AAPT Conference 2017

Last weekend, the Association of Anatomical Pathologist Technologists (AAPT) held their annual conference in the Park Plaza hotel in Cardiff. This cheeky, yet-to-be at that point, Mortuary Assistant writing this very blog managed to get a ticket all thanks to my new boss who was eager for me to go. It did make for many an interesting conversation when various people asked me how long I had worked in the business and I gave a little smirk and said ‘I start on Monday’ to be returned with a startled look and an ‘Oh!’.

I actually happened to have looked at the schedule well before I even thought I might be going, when I saw that it was happening through the AAPT website. As mentioned previously, two of the talks in particular stood out to me as being interesting but I can’t deny that they all held a certain amount of interest for me. I thought I would do a quick summary of the day and my experiences for anyone who is interested and would like to know more. 

The day kicked off early at around 8.30am when I arrived at the hotel with my new colleagues and we had a little wander around the stands and stalls of the various businesses attending the conference. This was great for two reasons, it was a good way to get chatting with people and introduce myself, while also conveniently being handed free stuff like there was no tomorrow. Who doesn’t like free stuff in all seriousness, even if I am aware this makes me sound rather shallow. The best item I was handed, however, is the first one which is a little squidgy dragon in an AAPT t-shirt that I have named Llewelyn. 

Llewelyn hanging out with some other cool stuff

The talks throughout the day were in pairs with coffee breaks and a lunch splitting them up. Each break was an oppurtunity to meet more people and have a chat. I’ll admit I’m not great at networking, and I also seem to have a forgettable face which does not help in these situations. I should explain, through my entire adult life I have always struggled with meeting people through anxiety but also because people seem to meet me then immediately forget my face. I perhaps should have gone to work for MI5 for this fact alone, however it makes it very hard situations when you smile at someone you have met before and they look at you blankly. Must work on being more memorable! 

The first two talks of the day were on CQC Inspection Preparation and TB & the Mortuary. The CQC are the Care Quality Commission and they inspect mortuaries to ensure that they are compliant with the different regulations and quality standards required of them. Without going into too much detail, this talk was very interesting to me who had very little previous knowledge of what this entailed. The speaker went through the various aspects of inspection and what was focused on in different areas, in what felt like a reassuring manner. The TB talk was fascinating because even though I thought I had a fairly good knowledge of what tuberculousis is, it turns out I did not. I never knew that there were so many different forms of tuberculosis and, in general, the BCG vaccine a lot of people used to be given is not 100% effective and does not prevent everyone from getting it. I like that the speaker of this talk spoke about TB like it is a sentient being, that it lives inside people to survive and does what it can in order to do so. 

The third talk was on a favourite topic my past readers will recognise, Organ Donation. This was led by a Specialist Nurse who is part of the Organ Donation team in Wales looking after those who donate and their families. This talk was so interesting because she went into a lot of detail around the process of donation and speaking to the families about this process. She also covered the fact that Wales have the opt-out scheme I spoke of recently and how this works. I really felt like I wish I had seen this talk before I wrote my blog post on this, but it’s given me a lot of food for thought for an Organ Donation II article and what else to include in that discussion. 

Fourth in the line up was a talk I had been particularly looking forward to, Corpses and Cat Videos, focusing on how the mortuary can use social media to it’s own benefit. The speaker talked through these benefits and discussed things like Twitter takovers and Facebook groups which I know and love so much. I think this talk more confirmed my beliefs around how I could use social media going forward rather than actually teach me anything new, but it was great to listen to this from someone else’s perspective and discuss with other guests after. I even connected with the speaker on Twitter the next day which solidified that I was doing the right thing so far! 

After a hearty lunch, we started back with a talk around electrical implant devices, e.g pacemakers, their history, uses and how to recognise them. This is something I was thinking about writing about in future because they are so fascinating, and dangerous. I always thought that an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator), if cut through by a scalpel, could electrocute and possibly kill the person on the other end. The Cardiac doctor who led this talk seemed to think it would hurt and be harmful but not enought to kill which was very interesting. The other danger of these devices is that if not removed from a person prior to cremation they can explode due to the nature of the batteries reacting to being heated. This can cause serious damage and I would like to look more into occurrences of this for some reason!

The last main talk was by a guest speaker from Holland who went through CBRNe in the mortuary. This refers to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive situations with which you can be presented with in a mortuary situation. He discusses a few examples he had encountered himself, and it was fascinating to listen to him go through how each time the mortuary had to rethink it’s own procedures and what it needed to do for the best outcomes. 

Following the afternoon break, there were two abstract talks which were of around ten minutes each. The first was discussing Thanatophoric Dysplasia, and the speaker spoke so fast I think this could have been utterly fascinating had I been able to keep up! I think maybe this just goes down to my lack of experience and knowledge but I will be giving this topic a google to try to understand it better. 

Lastly, another talk that I was certainly looking forward to, was regarding Mental Wellbeing in the APT. This talk was really well presented, and I thought hugely significant to bring to light an aspect that many may not have previously thought of in this field, as with many other professions. However, this should particuarly be in the forefront of the mortuary workers minds considering the stressful and often graphic nature of the work. I hope this talk made others think about this subject and consider it’s importance. 

The day ended and everyone looked forward greatly to the evening meal and event. I was eagerly awaiting this too, until we arrived at the venue and I realised that I was sat on a table with several other people I had never met or had any idea who they were! Those I had heard of had either spoke earlier that day or were significant figures in the AAPT. My anxiety levels went through the roof and I grabbed myself a gin and tonic and took my seat while trying to calm myself down. Luckily my new boss text me to ask how dinner was so I explained, he asked who I was sat with and then reassured me that they were all lovely and I would be fine. A friendly lady who organised the conference came over and said something very similar too. I was actually offered to sit in a vacant seat at a table where my colleagues were sat, but I declined as I knew I needed to meet other people and just bite the bullet. I’m glad I did because everyone on my table was friendly, chatty and I had some great conversations. The evening was splendid and another day ended with a big smile. 

Cardiff treated us well, and although we didn’t explore too much, we did encounter a punch up happening in the road about half way between the conference hotel and ours, and it also provided us with a McDonald’s breakfast the next day before I drove us home. I had a fabulous time and loved every second, I felt so chuffed to be a part of something like this and hope I get to go to many more in the future (I have been told that next year’s conference just so happens to handily be in London). 

I would like to say a big thanks to the speakers, the organisers and the other attendees for making my conference experience a great and enjoyable weekend. To those and everyone else please like, comment, subscribe and ask questions galore if you have any, as always. 

MG x

Mortuary Gem Becomes Reality

So you’ll be pleased to read that technically I am no longer a liar and a fake, and today was ‘Day One’ of when I can legitimately call myself Mortuary Gem. This morning I went to work in an actual mortuary in my new job as Mortuary Assistant. I suggest there should be a fanfare of some sort at this point, just so you know to insert one in your own mind for dramatic effect. 

‘What happened??’, I hear you ask eagerly. 

Well, I can assure you I had the best first day of work I have ever had, because basically I feel like I am truly somewhere I belong and can thrive. That is all I ever really wanted out of a job, something I felt utterly passionate about and that I want to turn up to every day. Who knows if I will always feel this way, but ever since my archaeologist days I’ve not been able to feel that way about anything I have done and been paid for. I’m also just the teensy bit proud of myself for having got here after all this time. 

‘Shut up about your feelings, and talk about your day’, I hear you grumble. 

No problem, of course I will talk about what did actually happen today and a good place to start is the beginning. I got to the mortuary for 8am and I changed into my new scrubs and Crocs. I have always hated and said I would never wear Crocs in my life but I will make an exception for this purpose. We, as in the mortuary team, then had our morning heads up meeting and discussed what was happening that day. 

I started the day by being shown how to check the fridge temperatures throughout the mortuary and how this is recorded for audit and compliance purposes. We also performed an alarm check, so basically when the temperature in a fridge gets too high it should trigger an alarm and the mortuary is notified. Luckily, this was all as it should be and in working order. Part of my role will be to complete this regularly. 

I then helped to register the people who had entered the mortuary from the weekend, a Monday is often the busiest day due to this fact. One day I will be doing this registering process myself as part of my role, but for today I read the procedure on how to complete it and tried to remember each step while assisting one of my new colleagues. One thing I did notice is that it was an incredibly busy morning with doorbells going off, phones ringing and tasks to be completed. I did my best to help, I answered the phone sheepishly a couple of times hoping the person on the other end wouldn’t ask anything I had no idea how to answer yet, and I answered the doors a few times in a similar fashion. I have a lot to learn and lot to discover but all in good time and I shouldn’t try to run before I can walk.  This is day one after all. 

After lunch, the afternoon was mostly taken up with watching my colleague enter the details into the system and logs, which I am going to learn soon, while setting up viewings for family members in the viewing room. I think I am correct in saying that I will be working closely with the bereavement team and helping relatives by setting up these viewings as part of my role and this is something I think is hugely important and I am excited to be a part of. A huge reason I wanted to get into this career is to support and provide help to the families alongside caring for their relatives within the mortuary.

The day ended at 4pm with being shown how to lock up the area and the other end of day processes. One thing I really liked about today was that all the people I met were lovely and welcoming. This ranged from the mortuary staff, to undertakers who were coming to collect people, doctors who were coming in for examinations, the bereavement team staff and other hospital staff. 

Well tomorrow is another day, and I’m excited as I know it will hold a lot of learning and further interesting things. Don’t worry, I won’t be posting daily updates going forward, I just thought it was important to get this one out as soon as I could to let you all know how I got on. As always, please like, comment and let me know if you have any questions or thoughts. I love hearing from you. I will also be working on an update from the weekend conference over the next few days and get this out to you as soon as I can! 

MG x

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