Blood, the Polish and a Shock to the Heart

Seems highly appropriate to write a blog article while I’m having blood siphoned out of my arm. Don’t worry I’ve not gone mental, I am festively giving blood and doing my bit for NHS Blood and Transplant. I’m a huge advocate of giving back what you can and blood is a hugely important aspect of this if you can! I understand that either people physically can’t or the idea makes them shudder, but if not then you have no excuse. Get yourself signed up and do your bit!

Sorry-not-sorry for the slightly gross photo…

It was a short week in the mortuary for me as I am not doing on call shifts yet. Therefore I had only 3 days there to catch up on the people who had been brought in from the weekend and also other work that needed doing. I saw two things this week that I wanted to talk about that I found fascinating.

We had a Polish lady who was going back to Poland for her funeral. I have seen a few cases where foreign nationals are picked up by different companies to be taken back to their country of origin however this Polish example was slightly different. My manager said to me to watch what they did because it would follow a particular set of practices which he described. He wasn’t wrong, and it was very interesting.

First they dressed her in simple black clothing which was carried out in a very respectful manner. They then moved her into her coffin (its unusual for funeral directors to bring coffins into the mortuary so it is rare to see one like this), and positioned her with her hands entwined over her stomach and a cross underneath them. A plaque was placed above her head and then they took several photos of her laying there. It was so unusual to see, and seemed so intimate that I felt privileged to be able to see this. Once the photos were taken, the plaque and cross were fixed to the lid of the coffin and the lid was screwed down.

After this occurred, I was intrigued by Polish funeral practices- I mean that’s just how I roll. So I had a quick look at Google and a range of different websites. I found it particularly interesting that it’s considered strange to try and be happy when mourning. Thinking of happy memories of loved ones and looking back with thoughts like this is just not considered the done thing. It made me think of how often we forget that there are so many different cultures out there with different ideas around what you should and shouldn’t do. Especially in our line of work we need to be mindful of this.

The other cool thing that happened today was that I was witness to an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) being deactivated on a patient. It’s all very clever these ICDs, they sit inside your chest and monitor your heart. They can shock you when you need it too, and let the hospital know when you have difficulties. I’ve often thought that it would be annoying to have this metal box under your skin all the time just hanging out but actually I think I’d be quite happy and feel in safe hands! The device is deactivated by placing a computer mouse like piece over the top (while still inside the patient) and then the machine reads it and the Cardiologist turns off all the functions. This machine can also tell them if the device has gone off and how the heart functioned while the patient was alive. It simply blows my mind. These are deactivated so they can be removed, because if not they could shock whoever cuts through the wire.

Well that’s all from me for now, I hope you had a brilliant Christmas like myself and have a very jolly New Years however you are celebrating (or not)!

If you are interested in any of the things I have spoken about please see he following links to start:

Polish Death & Burial Customs

Polish Commemoration of the Dead

BHF ICD page

heart.org ICD page

And register to give blood here

Thank you so much for reading; if you have any questions or want to discuss anything then let me know.

MG x

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A quiet evening in on Christmas Eve-Eve seemed like a good time to post a short update and wish you all a very merry festive season and all the best for 2018 as I am not sure how or when I will be able to post again.

The mortuary got busier of course and so much happened in the past week I can’t even think where to start. I have been cracking on with everything considering having a fairly horrid cold including a nasty cough and regular nose bleeds. Trying to be social while feeling like death warmed up is never fun but I’ve tried very hard!

I feel very privileged to be included in a team that has received many gifts and cards from all the funeral directors we see each day. I have never seen so many boxes of biscuits outside of a supermarket and luckily had two bottles of red wine to bring home (one of which I am sampling while writing this article).

One aspect of the week I found particularly fascinating and wanted to mention was a case of a patient who had a prosthetic nose. I had never seen such a thing before and found it completely intriguing so (of course) I researched them and found some articles I’d like to share. Some forms of cancer can cause loss of the nose and there is the possibility of having a prosthetic nose made, even 3D printed, and then attached using a magnet system built into your nasal area. I found two news articles where people had come forward with such noses, one in the Mirror and one in the Daily Mail. Isn’t technology wonderful! I’ve found cases where people have had ears attached in the same way and even whole parts of their face. I think this is incredible.

December 17th 2017: The Sunday Times

Another thing I noticed this week was that Alkaline Hydrolysis (see my previous discussion) reared it’s head in the news again. I saw a lot of talk on Twitter and my Dad passed me the above article from The Times with a fairly distasteful headline where it was talked about. Generally I am getting the impression that the public was not in favour because moving forward with such a thing would mean the human remains in the water of the process would be flushed away in the normal waste process of water. I have particularly strong feelings about this.

@ChickAndTheDead and @VonSvs discuss Alkaline Hydrolysis on Twitter

As you can see from this snapshot of Twitter, it has been pointed out that the process of post mortem actually washes an amount of human products away into the same system. I’m also not sure how different it is for the smoke of cremation to be pumped into the air compared to certain fluids being pumped into the water system, other than the fact we have a lot of hygienic and sanitary processes in place in our water system unlike the air that we breathe. If anyone has any thoughts on this I would be very interested to hear them.

I will now leave you with that thought, and once again wish you a Merry Christmas and will hopefully update you again soon. We spent a lot of time making enough fridge capacity space (hopefully) for the festive four day weekend but this does mean I will most likely be having a very busy day on Wednesday when I go back! Oh and please take a minute to think of those who work in the NHS or are on call over the four days. These people do not get thanked enough!

Take care and enjoy yourselves,

MG x

Return to The Gordon Museum of Pathology

Thursday evening this week something very exciting happened. I had the absolute pleasure of being invited along to the Cellular Pathology Discussion Group December 2017 Meeting at The Gordon Museum thanks to my friend Simon pulling a lot of strings.

I turned up at the Gordon Museum ten minutes before the allocated start time, particularly because I had been told there were nibbles and drinks to be had. I was told upon arrival to get down to the room where they were soon ‘before they ran out’. I’m not one to move slowly when food is at stake and I was even told to slow down on the old stone spiral staircase that is in the middle of the museum. I helped myself to two sandwiches and, of course, a mince pie. I found my friend Simon who seemed very tied up in organising so I left him with some encouraging words I hoped would help and began to explore.

A very friendly group had gathered in the room at the bottom of the museum, but socially awkward me hid in plain sight at a table and began forming a plan of how to spend the next hour before the talks began. I decided to have a little look around the museum as I’m not one to waste time or food it would seem. In case you haven’t read my previous article on this museum I will highlight my favourite items once again. I adore the the Joseph Towne wax models with all of my heart. This love has grown ever since I attended a talk at The Florence Nightingale Museum by Bill Edwards regarding them and since I last came here and saw them for myself. Luckily I could spend an age admiring them so I used up the spare time I had taking them in once again. They’re the kind of object you could stare at for hours and notice something new or different every five minutes.

I finally took my seat, hiding right at the back but early enough to actually get a seat. I had heard that they had enough seating room for around 50 but over 70 people in attendance. It’s very pleasing to see such a high turnout for events like this! Once in my seat I pulled out a notebook my friend Corinna had bought me when I left my previous job at Guy’s hospital- it seemed appropriate to use this as the last time I was here I still worked with her and the career I had left for had brought me right back.

Bill Edwards had the first talk which was title Forty Years of Murder. Having joyfully experienced one of Bill’s talks previously, I knew this would be a treat and it did not disappoint. The subject of this talk was an introduction to Professor Keith Simpson who was the first Forensic Pathologist. It was fascinating to learn all about how his career developed into the origins of what we now know as forensic pathology and how he carved this path himself through his ideals of what needed to happen for it to be effective. Simpson began his career in 1932, and through a lot of self teaching and learning in his role, he became a leading figure in the Forensic world.

Bill Edwards talked us through some examples of cases that Simpson had worked on and what he had done which was considered revolutionary at the time (and we now think of as basic Forensic work) like examining the scene before it is touched by anybody and photographing the scene for evidence. He decided it was important to examine under the fingernails of victims, and became interested in looking closer at ligatures and the knots used.

We mustn’t forget that he worked in a world where this kind of work was not taken seriously and considered to almost be ‘magic’ because it was not understood. At the end of the talk we were given two videos of Simpson talking that were lovely and a perfect way to seal the talk. My favourite happened to be him being asked why he had not become a clinical doctor, upon which he replied that he had a terrible bed-side manner but a great slab-side one. I can’t help but completely understand what he means when he said that!

The second talk was by Dr Elena Pollina and titled A Stowaway with your Baby- The hidden burden of Malaria in Pregnancy. This was a fascinating, in-depth discussion of malaria and how it impacts people through their life. Dr Pollina delivered the presentation in a very effective and thought-provoking way, with parts of humour thrown in which made it easy to follow. I was especially nervous of a lot going over my head as I do not have the scientific background of everyone else in that room! However, I learnt a lot about malaria and although I had a huge coughing fit in the middle of the really scientific part (for those who don’t know, I’m in the middle of a nasty chest infection) the end really stuck with me.

It was fascinating to learn that the WHO had intended malaria to be eradicated by 1950 and this was thought to be the case. However, cases of malaria have increased significantly and with the raising global temperatures it is thought that malaria will come back to Europe and in particular the UK in years to come. I think the most gutting part of this talk was being told that although drinking gin and tonics are considered to prevent malaria because of the quinine- too much quinine will ultimately give you terrible tinnitus and make you deaf. Here was me hoping that one of my favourite tipples would help me!

The night ended and I had a little wander about the museum taking full advantage of my time there. I had a little stroll around the kidneys and livers before calling it a night. What a fabulous evening and I’m so glad I could attend. Huge thanks to the Cellular Pathology Discussions Group Committee for organising (& Simon for getting me a ticket!). Also, thank you to Bill Edwards and Dr Elena Pollina for taking the time to present their talks.

I have tried to include links to sources throughout if you would like to know more, but if you have any questions or would like to discuss anything please get in contact! Also, doesn’t The Shard look lovely at night? Took the above photo as I was walking out of the university.

MG x

Christmas is a very busy time for us, Mr. Cratchit

With Christmas fast approaching, my social life gets hectic while my waistline increases as I shove mince pies in my face like there’s no tomorrow. In the meantime, the mortuary is noticeably busier and it’s becoming more important to look at what spaces we have- especially at weekends.

The mystery of why more people die in winter has been under debate for a long time. This news report from 2014 here as much as decides there is no reason for this phenomena because there are no distinguishable factors determining why a higher number of people die in the winter months. Interestingly, the ‘excess winter deaths’ are higher in warmer countries and lower in colder ones, however the reason for this is unknown and life expectancy can be similar between them. Also, the actual increase in deaths is unpredictable and can vary hugely year to year. While this could be put down to prevalent illnesses at these times, it’s not believed there is a correlation between, for example, flu outbreaks and the number of deaths.

There is a belief that people quite often ‘hold out’ for things like Christmas or important dates and essentially give up afterwards. The fact that a lot of the deaths around this time are due to terminal illnesses would imply that this could be the case. Mental illness is often thought to be a big issue around the festive season too, with social, financial and other pressures impacting people’s lives. There is a lot of support available to anyone experiencing mental health problems- I found this link where tips are given for coping through Christmas and charities like The Samaritans are always available to those that need help.

The care received in hospitals has also been thought to affect the death rate rise. Statistically, less experienced Doctors are not always available at weekends and during the holiday season such as reported here. However I wonder at how much these factors are looked at together rather than seen as failings of the NHS in the UK to provide care as is the case with a lot of the news articles I have seen. This did also seem to be a political issue of recent time so I will keep an eye out for anything published this year in regards to it. If you have any thoughts on this please do get in touch!

The past week’s activities to note included attending a meeting for the implementation of our new computer system. We met with the developers and discussed what our requirements were. You might think it strange that a newbie assistant gets to attend this kind of meeting, however I think they are using my skills from my previous job of being a change implementation technical expert in my financial sector role!

We were very busy with post-mortems this week and the APTs were kind as always to call me in if there was anything interesting to be seen. There was a skull which had previously been operated on and had two metal screw-like attachments which was fascinating to see.

We also had a moment where a visitor to the family room, where members of the public can visit their relatives, had lit up a cigarette. My manager had to rush in to remind them that it is a no smoking hospital before the smoke alarms went off. We experience all levels of grief and obviously are conscious that people grieve in their own ways so no animosity was present here. It was more the sheer panic of trying to not have to explain to the fire team that someone was smoking in the mortuary!

Next week I am only in work for three days because I’m cheekily taking two days off. More about this later as some exciting things are happening. Take care everyone, and have a great weekend!

MG x

Busy, Removing Eyes.

Well it’s been some week this week! I can’t say I’m not completely exhausted, and I am cooking a roast dinner for around 15 people tomorrow. No word of a lie that I am currently boiling an immense amount of potatoes in preparation. Sunday I will be putting my feet up, but for now I thought I would catch you up on my week before you think I’ve forgotten about this blog.

The week started out strong, I had Fire Warden training on Monday and I am now qualified to wear a high visibility jacket and tackle a fire if I choose to. I got to try out a couple of extinguishers which was very exciting, I’ve never tried one before! I most importantly learnt that the Carbon Dioxide one freezes so don’t hold the bottom or the funnel, and the water ones are incredibly heavy! I hopefully have a first aid training course at some point soon, Mortuary Gem will be one of the safest people you know I’m sure.

It was a quiet week in the mortuary really, with not many patients coming in and fewer post-mortems than previous weeks. This meant we could crack on with a few other things, I had a chance to read up on some of the documents in the office and try to learn a bit more about the HTA (Human Tissue Authority). I will definitely be mentioning them again in future for one very poignant reason- we have a HTA inspection coming up in the new year and I’d like to understand more about what they are looking at so will be doing lots of reading!

Wednesday morning I had the chance to visit another hospital mortuary in a town nearby to see how their computer system worked because we will soon be implementing it at our mortuary. This was a really great chance to see how another mortuary worked, while also getting to meet some new people who work in the same field. They were lovely and friendly, and happy to take time to show me everything I wanted to see. It was also in the town where I used to work for five years previously and I used to drive past the hospital every day too! Funny, I never thought I would be able to visit the mortuary there when I was driving past to do my office job.

In the evening I went along with Laura D to another talk at Barts Pathology Museum. This time it was titled Gothic Diessections in Film & Literature and was given by Ian Conrich and Laura Sedgwick who are the authors of a book of the same title. This was a completely engaging discussion of how body parts are used in certain ways in films or books to show different themes and ideas through the reading of excerpts of their book. The book is divided into body parts and the talk discussed several of these including skin, teeth and the brain. Alongside the gif and image laden slides, there were interactive sections with handouts of props and appropriately themed sweets that made this a throughly enjoyable talk! The book can be pre-ordered here, I had a chance to look through a copy while at the museum and it might have been on my Christmas list had it come out before! Thanks once again to Carla Valentine for hosting the event at the museum.

Gothic Dissections in Film & Literature: The Body in Parts

Highly appropriate sweets handed out during the talk!

Thursday was a very busy day with five post-mortems occurring and the pathologist conducting them was not someone I had met before. I was assisting in the post-mortem room arranging the tools when I was asked if I would write down some notes for him. I of course jumped at the chance and had a lovely hour or so chatting with him. The post-mortems were fascinating, I find myself being shown various things by the APTs and I will never get tired of the different stuff I see in there. One of the patients in for a post-mortem that day was having several samples taken for testing and I was shown how these were taken. My favourite part of all was, and I’m sorry if you are terribly squeamish but you kind of know what to expect from this blog, being shown how to take the eyes out from their sockets. This was so interesting, seeing how the eye is connected by the muscles surrounding it, as well as how to detach it from the nerves at the back.

Today was a quieter day with no post-mortems and only a few patients to ‘book in’ so I spent a while cleaning, and also had a chance to discuss a few things with my manager regarding the new computer system. I had better get back to my roast dinner prep now, but if you have any questions about any of the above or anything else please get in touch! Thank you for reading and I’ll be back next week with another update.

MG x

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