MG Takes a Break & Thinks About Funerals

So the time has come to have some time off. After the week that felt like the longest week in the history of weeks, I don’t have to set an alarm for the next 8 days (my alarm usually goes off at 5.55, then 6.03 and then 6.09). It feels very strange. I was having a conversation with my Manager yesterday and I feel ridiculous for being weird about having a week off. For a start, I have complete FOMO (fear of missing out) regarding whatever will happen at the mortuary next week. When anything can happen any day, the possibility of missing something you might never see again is always there. In addition, and without wanting to sound like a smug idiot, I actually like my job so missing a whole 5 days kind of makes me a bit gutted.

Appropriate Friday night beverages!

Anyway, Friday night called for some appropriately themed beverages and some thought. I was pointed in the direction of James O’Brien’s LBC podcast by my partner who mentioned he discussed funerals. I thought this also fitted in nicely with Caitlin Doughty’s Instagram post this week relating to her UK book launch asking what problems the UK funeral trade has which prompted a lot of replies.

James O’Brien’s LBC podcast this week available at all good podcast directories!

Do I think the UK funeral trade is too expensive? Personally, I think that there is a definite need for clarity over what your money is spent on. If they offer packages, there should be a clear idea of what is included and why it costs as much as it does. If only to reassure people that they are not being taken advantage of at a time when they are grieving and vulnerable. I also think that people often sign up to aspects of funerals they neither need nor want for the sake of an easier time. It’s not something a lot of people have any knowledge of and understandably so. However, maybe a little more public understanding of this area is needed in order to make this reality.

Caitlin Doughty’s Instagram post @thegooddeath

Do I think there are other problems with UK funerals? I think the links to the fact no one discusses death or likes to think about it is a problem. I think the fact, like a lot of things, that it is a business and therefore has the interest of making money is a problem. Businesses get greedy. Around here a lot of the funeral companies are big traditional, family run businesses from the East End of London with years of experience and trust from the community. If this gives someone a sense of peace at a horrible time, I’m not one to criticise that. The major problem does come when someone is unable to afford a funeral at their costs, and I’ve seen this happen in my short time at the mortuary. Trying to arrange an ‘affordable’ funeral can be a stressful act but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the direction the funeral industry moves towards in the future.

I’d be interested to know what others think and feel about this. If you have had a recent experience of this please comment below with your thoughts if you would like to.

In other news, I have a lot planned for my week off! Wait and see, but you might be severely disappointed or pleased with the fact I plan to not take a break from blogging. Thank you for reading and enjoy your weekend.

MG x

Coco- Disney does Death

Coco is the new Disney Pixar movie that came out earlier this year. It’s explores the adventures of young boy Miguel who finds himself in the afterlife and meeting his deceased relatives. It’s full of Disney cheer, music and joy but with the obvious undertones of death and bereavement. When I first heard about this film, I was at the Death Cafe in November and I knew I had to see it when it was released. Part of my feelings around the Death Positivity movement include talking more openly and frankly about death. This includes conversations with family and with children. I don’t feel that we should hide death from children. I’m also not convinced that we should smother them in it either but there are practical ways of confronting this. The fact Disney decided to make this film and approach this subject is fascinating in itself!

Coco does go deeply into death, maybe a little deeper than some parents would be comfortable with. Personally, I’m not a parent but I feel that you would know by your child whether something will scare them unnecessarily. Or, if you cannot predict but you are worried they are too scared by something they have seen, should this not be the time to have a conversation and explore that topic with them to put them at ease? Children will develop fear and anxiety around certain topics but that doesn’t mean we should shied them from them.

An article on Gloucestershire Live written by a parent explained that his four year old daughter was clearly affected by the themes of Coco. He advises that it may not be for the very young and I can sympathise with this. However he does not explain if he spoke to her after or how he dealt with this, and I think that is a shame. I know as a young child, the concept from this film of being forgotten once you have died would have stuck with me and definitely caused a lot of thoughts. I already thought about that as a child, but maybe it would have provoked a conversation with my parents after having seen this film. Maybe.

The director has been quoted as stating that the movies they make are not for kids alone but for “for everybody – for adults and ourselves. We just make sure they’re appropriate for kids”, which seems fair. I think we’ve all, if you’ve seen them, shed a tear during the first scenes of Up or at that point in Toy Story 3 (you know which bit if you’ve seen it). A lot of movies have a habit of throwing in upsetting scenes but this this not part of why we find them memorable. Funnily enough, these scenes too have a theme of death about them, but is it that Coco is more obvious in showing skeletal figures and an afterlife?

Like with most of the themes surrounding this blog, whether it be death, funerals, organ donation etc., there are simply not enough conversations about them in my opinion. People shun from discussing the morose and depressing, but by doing so only create a taboo around a subject that at some point we all have to face or consider. I think these taboos create more damage to people than discussing them openly ever could. If by seeing Coco even a handful of children open up to their parents about their thoughts or even worries regarding death and, by doing so, become less afraid of a subject that can seem terrifying at a young age, then I am delirious this film was made! Well done Disney!

Just as a final note, yes I loved the movie completely and, yes, it did make me cry. Twice. Oh and I thought you might like to know I wore themed clothing because I am that kind of nerd. Huge thanks to Laura T for accompanying me tonight, for crying in those bits too and for also buying me a massive ice cream. You’re a brilliant human being.

Thank you all for reading! Go see the film if it’s your kind of thing.

MG x

The Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain

We all have one. You might think some don’t, but we do. It helps you balance, see, process ideas, remember song lyrics, hear, recognise people and places, sleep and just about everything you do. Only a handful of reactions and functions, for example reflexes, are not controlled by your brain. Yet the brain, to me, is the easiest organ of them all to remove from a person. Apart from the pesky skull, the brain is kind of floating about with not that many connections. This week I took my first brain out and that was incredibly awesome.

As part of a post mortem the brain is examined. This could be for a number of reasons, but mainly I’ve seen the pathologist look for injury or bleeds. A brain with a bleed is often quite obvious from the moment the skull is opened as far as I’ve seen so far.

The skull is cut with an oscillating saw which is often called a bone saw or autopsy saw. It blows my mind that it can cut through bone and solid things like plaster casts but it couldn’t cut your skin or even the glove on your hand. I’ve tried to read about how this works with not much luck I’ll add! More about the saws we use here. With quite a wide section of the skull removed, mostly the top of the head, the layer between the brain and the skull can be seen. This is known as the dura and is a thickish membrane which surrounds your brain. Sometimes this can be stuck to the section of the skull removed and this needs to be peeled off in order to ascertain if there are any skull fractures. If not, the dura can be removed from the area opened to reveal the brain.

The brain is removed quite simply by scooping it out from the front and detaching it from the optic nerves, the membranes attaching it to the base of the skull and the spinal cord. In its entirety, the brain weight can be very different between people but tends to be the same colour and shape. Holding one in your hands is a very humbling experience is all I can say. Oh and they’re not bright pink like you see on tv a lot of the time, they tend to range between a grey colour and a weird shade of beige.

Hopefully with time I will learn more and more about this to share, for now my knowledge is quite limited. I started today learning more about being able to recognise certain parts for post mortem and how to tell if certain injuries or problems are present with my Manager which was brilliant.

A final note to say the HTA inspection I wrote about on Tuesday and that happened this week went very well. I felt like I discovered a lot more about what they were looking for and why. I wasn’t too fearful of them because they were very friendly and I certainly feel less afraid of any inspections going forward!

Have a great weekend and thanks, as always, for taking the time to read.

MG x

The HTA- who, what, why & how

The Human Tissue Act 2004 was introduced off the back of a number of scandals in the UK. The main scandal that people speak of in reference to this is the Alder Hey organs scandal from 1988 to 1995 where organs and tissue of a number of children were held without permission or consent from their parents. More can be seen about the scandal here. This was alongside a number of other issues which meant something had to change in the country. It is important to note here that this act applies only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Scotland have a similar but different legislation of their own.

The idea behind this change in legislation was to aid the public’s confidence in the system by aiming to ‘regulate the removal, storage, use and disposal of human bodies, organs and tissue’. This also introduced a governing body known as the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). The HTA’s role is to enforce the polices and legislation by providing guidance and issuing licenses to institutions who have contact with human tissue in a number of environments.

The licenses they issue depend of what kind of institution they are licensing. It varies from mortuaries like where I work where a license will be issued to conduct post-mortem examinations, to museums like Bart’s Pathology Museum who will be licensed to display human tissue for research and study. Their work is important, and is enforced by inspections.

Such an inspection is occurring tomorrow and Thursday where I work. Representatives of the HTA will be coming to visit to ensure that we at the mortuary are compliant with their guidelines, are fit for work and have practices that fit with the manner of our license. More about the inspections can be found on their website here.

If you would like to know more about the HTA yourself, a good place to start are their guides for the public which are

I’m excited to see what they do, how they go about it and to learn more about the HTA from them. I feel like I have read a lot about them on their website but seeing it for myself will be the real learning experience. Hope you are all having a good week so far and thank you for reading!

MG x

Eye Donation with NHSBT

The first full week of the year and five day week for some time seemed to simultaneously go fast and slow if such a thing is possible. Slow in that, by the time Friday evening rolled around, I was physically and mentally completely exhausted. I couldn’t pull my brain together to write this yesterday and normally I can get this done easily! It went fast in that so much happened it feels a bit like a blur.

The capacity issues of previous weeks seem to be becoming less of a problem (I really hope I haven’t spoken too soon on that front) and we caught up on all the the post-mortems that were required as of Friday. This is great because next Wednesday the hospital is having an inspection by the Human Tissue Authority (HTA). Next week I will go into what this means and let you know how it went!

On Thursday I had a chance to watch an eye donation from a patient who had donated what looked like organs, tissue and eyes to the donation system. This was brilliant and without being too gross (I’ll try!) I’d like to explain how this process went.

The woman who worked for NHSBT (NHS Blood and Transplant) rang the bell at the mortuary like all visitors do and identified herself. I got her to sign in and asked politely if I could watch her do what she does- she seemed more than happy for me to watch and was very friendly! Together we identified the patient who was donating, it’s important two people check together the wristbands of the individual to ensure the correct person is donating, like with any process in the mortuary and the individual is unable to identify themselves.

She then put on the protective equipment for herself and the process (hairnet, mask, gloves, apron etc.) and laid out all of her tools, paperwork and other bits to take his eyes. First she filled out some paperwork, then asked me to grab her a sharps bin and a bag for her waste.

She started by checking the individual over for signs of infection or any reasons why he should not donate. This was all clear and good to go. She then laid out a sheet over his face and cleaned his eyes of all debris. There are connective tissues and four muscles which hold your eye in its socket, plus the optic nerve at the back of the eye. I still find this incredible considering I always thought your eyes could pop out if you sneezed with your eyes open. Apparently not. To remove the eye all of these tissues and nerve need to be disconnected. I won’t go into detail how! Once this is done, the eye is placed in a holder which is placed into a pot. She kept them on the left and right side of his body in order to know which side they came from. She then cleaned him up, placed cotton wool and a cap into the socket and reconstructed his eyes. They seriously looked like nothing had happened with his eyes closed. You would never know there weren’t eyes under his eyelids!

The eyes themselves can be kept for up to four weeks by the service awaiting use, but the woman assured me that they are rarely there for long once they have been tested to make sure they are okay for transplant. Eyes must be taken within 24 hours of death so they are okay for transplant too. The teams taking Tissue for transplant work around the clock to take these donations within the time limits and keep it running. I think it’s incredible and so should you because one day you might require a transplant such as this.

Other things this week, I started helping out in the post mortem took a lot more. My stitching is getting better, smoother and faster. I also encountered my first problem with this and overcame it quite well (think skin that doesn’t stitch back together so well…) so I’m proud of that!

Very important and busy week next week as mentioned previously. I’ll be sure to post about this next time. Hope you all have a great weekend and enjoyed this post.

MG x

One Year On…

A year ago yesterday exactly, I had a rotten cold. The kind where your head weighs much more than it should and you ache furiously. I was at work in my office job, which I liked only because of the lovely people I worked with, when I received an email. My Manager noticed that I had been unwell and came over to ask if I was okay. Unfortunately a combination of the lurgy and that email made me burst into tears. After a long talk in a small room away from the open office I felt spurred on to sort things out, but firstly to go home and feel better in myself.

The email itself stated that I had not been selected to interview for a Trainee Anatomical Pathology Technologist position at the local hospital. While deep down I knew that it was a long shot, I stupidly had a lot of hope riding on the role.

Yesterday, I received the news that I had been given a Trainee APT role where I work now at that local hospital! With that news came the first time of holding a PM40 blade and using it. I had only ever held them before to change them for the APTs or Pathologists. For those who don’t know, a PM40 is a blade used for post-mortem work. It’s bigger than a scalpel and with a chunkier handle. Some APTs use a PM40 for everything, some use a scalpel and some use a combination of the two. For the first time I felt like the scalpel was easier to use and more tactile but that was just the first go!

These items are made by a company called Swann-Morton and can be found here if you’re interested-

The other APTs are highly skilled and make the evisceration look so easy. Having a little go at some of the bits myself yesterday, I managed to slice through the aorta and not do so great all in all. However for a first go I’m okay with that, we all have to start somewhere. Plus, I have cheekily had a couple of goes at stitching previously so now my stitching is still slower than the other APTs, but it looks nice and holds well. If I can get quicker I’ll be chuffed to bits!

So that’s my good news of the week. I finally made it after a year of working so hard to get here. The lack of interview spurred me on to contact the mortuary manager, who agreed to meet face to face, who then offered a work

placement, which then led to applying furiously for NHS jobs, which led to my position at Guy’s in the office which all put me in good stead for the Mortuary Assistant job and now I’m here.

I’d like to say thank you to those who have believed in me, put up with my moaning or crying or mood swings and to those who have supported me. You all know who you are and what part you played and I’m so very grateful. Bring on the coming years and all the training, I’m so excited to learn it all!

MG x

January is the Monday of the Year

I remember seeing that on Twitter at some point and finding it funny because it’s true. I always find January a particularly tough time with my brain. It feels like starting over to me. Like everything seems scary and bleak. I have no idea why this is the case, it’s not at all. I have some excellent things to look forward to and some brilliant people in my life. Just can never shift the gloom I feel around the particular month.

Recently my own mental health and generally the topic of mental health has been at the forefront of my mind. My little side project with my friend Adam, our podcast This Little Island, last month discussed mental health in the UK and I’m a huge advocate of talking about these things.

So, here it goes. I have depression. I have a clinical diagnosis as such, and although not currently on any medication, in the past I have been, and I have also undergone counselling. I’ve been at incredibly low places where I’d not seen a way out. I’ve also, very recently, battled against my brain which tells me that although things are good right now, this can only mean that terrible things are coming because apparently that’s how life works. The good and the bad. Too much good and expect the bad.

Ironically, my brain would never tell me that too much bad meant the good was coming. I am very good at over analysing, breaking down things into very minute details. This is useful in some scenarios but not when you’re trying to convince yourself that everything is fine and to stop worrying. For a long time my head has believed that worrying to the point of feeling unwell was all part of the preparatory process. I simply would not feel ready for something to happen had I not thought about it until I had an upset stomach or not slept for three nights.

While I know my own mental health problems are not as serious as others, by talking about them I hope it brings others forward to discuss their own experiences. I want to help smash up the taboo that exists around talking about our mental health issues.

I felt particularly low yesterday and I have no idea why. I was at work and felt like I was coping fine and hiding it well to some extent. Then at around 3pm my colleague came over to me when I was on my own and asked something very simple.

Would you like a hug?

Seems silly but it meant the absolute world, partly because she gives the best hugs you could ever imagine, but also because someone hadn’t asked me if I was alright, or ignored me or anything else. They had seen someone feeling low and knew how to fix the problem, if only for a few minutes. But that’s a few minutes I needed!

On that note, I came to work today feeling much brighter. I tend to take a day at a time and today felt much more positive. I even met some relatives visiting their family member on my own for the first time. I was incredibly nervous but they were so nice and friendly I felt very stupid for getting so worked up about it. I then had a great conversation with Laura D about it all this evening and, hugely significantly, I don’t feel alone in it all.

Importantly, here’s some links you should check out in regards to this post:


Samaritans and can be called on 116 123 from any phone

Check out This Little Island podcast on iTunes or podbean- links can be found on our twitter @tlipodcast

And most importantly, if you are suffering yourself with mental health problems then seek help. Even if you just want to have a chat, please email me or message me on my social media either @gemmanorbs or the same on Instagram

Take care everyone!

MG x

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