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. 

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MG x 

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