The Wonder of the Diaphragm

For those who read my previous article, time to redeem the diaphragm and celebrate what it can do! I would just like to point out that a google search reminded me to tell you all I’m referring to the thoracic muscle and not the contraceptive method or any other diaphragms in the human body that do exist but are not so commonly known. Thought that was worth mentioning for clarity, just in case.

The thoracic diaphragm muscle is a thin sheet which runs pretty much through your middle separating out your thoracic cavity and your abdominal one. In other words, it’s keeps the lungs and heart away from the liver, stomach and digestive bits and bobs. In a post mortem is a fleshy bit that is cut through and detached from all manner of places. In life it has some wonderful purposes.

When you breathe, it’s not your lungs that do all of the work. Your diaphragm moves with your breaths creating a vacuum to suck air in and it moves to push it back out again. This also makes me think of when I used to do yoga, those of you who have also taken part in yoga will know what I’m talking about. That ‘belly breathing’ technique which calms you right down is using the diaphragm to move your organs about and make space for that breath. Thanks diaphragm for helping us chill out while lying on a hall floor somewhere having paid £7.50 for the pleasure.

As well as encouraging air in and out of our bodies, the diaphragm takes part in vomiting, urinating, excretion and also in childbirth. Oh and don’t forget when you get hiccups that’s your diaphragm in spasm. It jerks and causes your vocal chords to shut making that well known sound. I, for one, get hiccups oddly regularly and always loudly. I quite enjoyed playing the sound of a hiccup from Wikipedia over and over, and if you would too you can find it here.

The other thing I would like to mention is the slightly horrid fact you can herniate your diaphragm. Although it’s a nicer, hidden and less problematic hernia than some of the others. A hiatus hernia occurs when the stomach pokes through near to where the oesophagus enters the abdominal cavity via the diaphragm. This can happen in a few different ways and will often give no symptoms or cause the person any problems. Any bad symptoms you may experience with a hiatus hernia could include heartburn, acid reflux or difficulty eating and drinking. I’ve not yet seen a hernia of this sort, I’ve seen multiple others and that’s for another article one day, but I do know someone with this type of hernia! These can be controlled by changing lifestyle habits and rarely require surgery, good to know. More about these can be found at NHS choices here.

So there you have it, the wonderful thoracic diaphragm in short. Please don’t take it for granted that you have this little thin muscle working hard away inside you. Any comments, questions or feedback welcome! Thank you for reading!

MG x

The Nonsense of the Diaphragm

I finally managed to (mostly) eviscerate someone by myself! I mean I struggled to remove the tongue as before and I had a blip in regards to the bladder but the rest was all me. So chuffed at how far I’ve come. I had a very skinny person today and I was quite worried I’d cut through the skin where I shouldn’t (I managed to do that yesterday but luckily my colleague came to the rescue with some glue and it looked like nothing had happened!). Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the brain count while I think of it, with slow and steady progress I’m up to 13 brains removed in total.

Interestingly, different pathologists like their organs in different ways. By that, I mean some like all in one go, so you begin at the tongue and end at the bladder or prostate/cervix with everything in between attached. That’s hard to do in experience if only because it can be really heavy and difficult to handle. Others like them in blocks. Blocks means in separate chunks therefore navigating the diaphragm and the title of this article comes from a direct quote of a colleague. Obviously the diaphragm is not nonsense in life and has numerous functions. However in a post-mortem I can only see it gets in the way a little bit. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn in regards to this but that is what I took away from today! I also feel like I owe a whole article dedicated to the diaphragm and what it is good for…

Pre-show not sure what to expect!

This evening Laura D and I went to see a show at Barts Pathology Museum by Liz Rothschild called Outside the Box. What a treat for someone who is death positive and loves a good discussion about death. Sadly I couldn’t stay for the discussion after but I would love to have continued the evening. Liz’s show was a collection of stories regarding death from different perspectives and highlighting the joy and happiness to be taken from these moments. Liz is a performer, celebrant and burial ground owner. She embodies everything I think I represent in my own tiny way in the death world and I thoroughly recommend going to see her if you can. I also really want to find a coffin making course now, I will weave my own coffin! If you know of one please do let me know.

Coffin weaving in action!

Tomorrow is the last day of the week before the extra long double bank holiday weekend! Happy Easter everyone, enjoy the time off if you get it and the chocolate if you like it. This four day weekend does mean a busy time for us tomorrow trying to make space. We will be filling up the extra storage out the back and maybe even chasing up funeral directors to come and get people from us. This is in addition to the normal everyday work we have to do. I’ve not had a job this physical for a long time and some nights my feet and back hurt more than I thought they could, but it’s a great job and I love it.

Only a quick update tonight, maybe a diaphragm post and some other random research over the weekend if I have time. Thank you for reading and please get in contact with your questions as per my previous post.

MG x

Stinks & Cysts

Another busy four day week went by, I have suddenly realised that due to the Easter weekend there’s two more four-day weeks coming up! By April I won’t remember what a five day week feels like. I’ve had a busy weekend too, I met up with a lot of people who have mentioned the blog and that they actually read it. It’s overwhelming how people are interested and I’m really happy that something I love writing is also read by so many!

Post-mortems happened every day in the last week apart from Wednesday when we had no Pathologists able to come down. I’ve come a long way with my scalpel now and I think I can do most of the basic aspects of evisceration. I’m struggling to get my head around exactly how to remove the intestines but I’m close to getting it right, and I came so close to removing the tongue all by myself on Thursday!

Friday we had two ‘decomps’ to post-mortem so the smell in the mortuary wasn’t exactly the freshest. I helped with the setting up and the clean up, I also stitched one of them back up. There’s a funny thing about the decomposition smell, it lingers. Like any smell, you get used to it to some extent. I’ve found that the isolation room where they are taken to for post-mortem is very stinky, and in there I automatically adopt a kind of shallow breathing technique that works really well. The smell doesn’t make me feel ill as such, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be taking it great lung-fulls of it at a time. Outside of that, the fridge they are in becomes quite fragrant so you can spray it with nice smelling cleaning products, or just avoid opening that fridge as much as possible. The smell does hang around though outside the isolation room but in a much milder way. That’s then funny when the hospital porters or funeral directors enter the room and immediately scrunch their noses up. By that point I’ve got accustomed to the milder smell and don’t notice it!

The brain count is currently at 11, not as high as I’d like but one of the people I worked on this week had a possible stroke so the pathologist wanted a more experienced APT to remove their brain. That’s fair enough, last thing I would want to do is make their job harder by handing them a brain I’d mushed in the process of removing. I did have one kidney this week that I’d noticed had a rather large cyst attached to it. Cysts like that are well known for bursting and shooting liquid out, so I very carefully removed that one with my face as far away as possible while still being able to see what I was doing. Even though we wear lots of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) it’s still not pleasant to be covered in body fluids.

After a conversation I had with someone yesterday, I’m thinking about including a little more detail in some of my posts but I will flag up if they are really gory or disgusting. I would recommend that if anything so far has made you queasy you don’t read those ones. Is there anything that anyone would like explained a little more or anything anyone is curious about that I could answer? Random bus thought of the week was ‘I know what happens after you die…. just not the bit you will have any idea is going on’. So if you do have any burning questions about anything at all please do get in touch. If you don’t like to comment, please either tweet me @gemmanorbs or email me gemmanorburn@icloud.com and I will try to answer them. If I get enough I can do a little Q&A post.

That’s all for this week I think, next week we’re back up at Barts Pathology Museum for the final event in Funeral March– it’s a comedy event that looks fun so get a ticket if you fancy coming along. A four day weekend adds extra pressures to the mortuary so I will talk about those next week. Thank you all so much for reading, it honestly means a lot to me.

MG x

Griefcast: Let’s Talk About Grief!

There’s something about grief which makes it odd. Like death, it’s something we all experience at some point in our lives. Grief can be feared, it can be hated, and yet it is certainly expected. It’s something we often not only fear for ourselves, but also for others around us. We fear that we might not do the right thing, say what is needed or react appropriately in the given moment.

This is why I am so glad that I discovered Griefcast. I spoke about Griefcast briefly before in my podcast recommendations post, however Laura D and I saw an episode live recording at Barts Pathology Museum yesterday as part of the Funeral March events and I feel that I need to discuss why it is so important once more (at least).

Griefcast is hosted by comedian Cariad Lloyd who interviews a different fellow comedian each week regarding a bereavement or death in their life that has been important to them. It’s a frank, open and witty conversation that opens up all kinds of usually unspoken aspects of grief and breaks down the walls of taboo that have built up over time. Often it is a close relative who is discussed, but one of my favourite episodes was actually regarding the death of a dog. On Wednesday evening, Cariad was joined by journalist Dolly Alderton, comedian Ahir Shah and comedian Gráinne Maguire. The conversation this time was not focused upon particular deaths but an overall theme of death itself. Discussion included how you would want to die, what you might want your last words to be and what would happen at your funeral (including what song you would want played). It’s this kind of open discussion around death that normalises the death conversation and encourages more people to speak in this manner regarding it. It is exactly what Death Positivity encourages and I felt a real sense of that was what the audience represented in many ways. Here, to me, is the future of death culture where we no longer fear discussing it. Cariad, Dolly, Ahir & Gráinne

I won’t go into too much detail around what was discussed, you should (and will!) listen to the episode when it is released, however I would like to point out that something very important was highlighted. In respects to my opening sentences, it was discussed what could be done when others are experiencing grief or loss. In a very basic sense, we always feel that we need to solve the problem when someone is hurt and with grief over a death this is just not possible. What we can do, is support that person and face the fact with them that what they are going through is utterly awful but provide them with whatever they need.

In my line of work I meet a lot of grieving people. People react to grief in a number of, often unpredictable, ways and I really feared saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone unintentionally with my actions. Listening to Griefcast has really opened my eyes to people and their emotions in these times, it has allowed me to understand the process better. Sometimes the people being interviewed speak about going to see their loved one and their experiences, this has really helped me focus on what I can provide for the people I meet.

The lovely Cariad Lloyd and me after the show

If you haven’t listened to Griefcast already, then why not? I already recommended it ages ago! It’s available to download from all good podcast providers and I’m sure you will love it as much as I do. A huge thank you to all those involved in the Griefcast recording, and to you for reading as always. Keep your eyes peeled for an update this weekend about my busy week at work and how I’ve progressed (or how many brains I’ve now removed!).

MG x

Visiting The Victorian Valhalla

Highgate Cemetery opened in 1839 and today is probably the most famous and visited of all the Magnificent Seven. Today it is still in use and the burial site of some of the most famous of London’s population. The site is divided by Swains Lane and has an East and West side. The West side is the original site of the cemetery and has the oldest graves including the first one belonging to Elizabeth Jackson.

Laura D and I visited Highgate yesterday in the brilliant sunshine that seems so distant on this grey and snowy day today! The West cemetery is only available to be visited via organised tour which can be booked on their website here- https://highgatecemetery.org

Our little tour group at the entrance

The tours take place very often and seem to be incredibly popular. I can understand why. The cemetery originally would have been open clear ground over gently rolling hills, but time and lack of maintenance over many years has meant trees and plants have taken over in the way that nature always does. Trees grow up between graves or sometimes through the middle of them, ivy covers nearly everything in places. It understandably creates quite an atmosphere because each section is only visible directly from the path.

Can barely see the graves for the trees

The tour is a little over an hour and visits some of the more unusual and larger of the grave sites in the cemetery. My Victorian history is a little rusty so the famous people of that age are not familiar but include a boxer, an animal collector, a family of bell makers and a coachman among many others. The wealthiest of the Victorian elite are buried at Highgate, I’m certain as a status symbol, but also because of the protection of a guarded gate. Grave robbers meant that the fear of your loved one being ripped from their final resting place was real and justified.

Our tour guide Brittany was great in that she had the cheery disposition and dark humour of someone you would want to show you around a cemetery. The tour itself appears to cover a lot of the cemetery, you see Egyptian Avenue in all its splendour and the catacombs, some of the larger monuments which are most impressive. I cannot recommend the tours more highly, they are informative and interesting even for those who aren’t just fascinated by Victorian death customs.

Brittany explaining the similarly in symbolism between the ‘cut off’ Victorian column in the background and the broken topped modern grave in the foreground

On the East side of the cemetery is another site with a much more open and ‘garden’ feel. Although both sites are still in use (George Michael and Alexander Litvinenko are both in the West side), it would appear newer graves are more common on the East side. Your tour ticket will also get you into this side, or I believe you can pay a small fee to enter.

Pretty awesome for a big Douglas Adams fan (that’s me!)

The East side has the resting places of many including Douglas Adams, Malcolm McClaren, Jeremy Beadle and, most famously, Karl Marx who’s grave is probably the main reason for people’s visits. His grave is impressive with a rather large bust of him adorning the top. There’s a great mix of traditional, older and newer graves on this site which is fascinating. Modern headstones branch out into many different areas, I’ve seen them in lots of different shapes which is a nice effect for your loved one. I think my favourite is the little painting palette that can be seen in the photo below.

The combination of modern and older gravestones

The third cemetery of our adventure complete, I can’t help but acknowledge how well Highgate has done. It’s claim of being ‘saved’ by the Friends of Highgate charity rings true when you visit and notice the ongoing work there to keep it a place that people want to visit. Tours are not the cheapest but when you recognise that the money is going directly back into the conservation of the area and everyone there volunteers you realise the importance of visiting to their cause. As you walk about you see graves marked with tape where it has been noticed that they are unstable or need attention. The larger mausoleums have been opened and cleaned by projects to save them too.

Who doesn’t love a cemetery cat?

At what seems to be the rear of the cemetery is a towering mausoleum bearing the name of Julius Beer. It’s big, looming and breathtaking. On the tour you are handed pictures of the inside which is absolutely stunning, and on their website is a virtual tour here- https://highgatecemetery.org/images/tour/julius-beer-mausoleum/vtour/tour.html I can’t recommend clicking that link more, do it. It’s just a beautiful tomb for his daughter who died very young.

The work at Highgate is impressive, invaluable and, I believe, in stark contrast to the other members of the Magnificent Seven but a place that a number of them are aspiring towards. We will see when we visit the remaining four, but Laura and I definitely noticed the feel of Highgate was different to our wanders around Kensal Green or West Brompton.

Thank you for reading and have a great weekend.

MG x

My (Eventful) Two Day Week

You know that feeling when you have a cold and your nose is so blocked it’s just horrible and you miss breathing normally. You think of all the times that you were able to breathe through your nose and how simply wonderful they were. How much you took that easy breathing for granted so much.

Now imagine that thought, but regarding the feeling of being clean. Imagine the feeling of being so gross that you miss the days when you’re fresh, when you smell nice and you’re not covered in urine and feaces. You might think I’m being dramatic, and I often am. Yet, still an interesting feeling to have when you’re on the bus on the way home and longing for a shower. No matter the gown, apron, gloves, arm covers, boots, goggles you wear, you cannot prevent the smell hanging around.

There’s no simpler way of saying it but this week a bladder exploded on me. Yep, the bladder erupted in a flood of urine in my direction. I was struggling to get it out and my colleague came to help me, then splash! I could smell it all day, all day long. I’m amazed (and so, so pleased) it didn’t get me in the face to be honest. It’s not uncommon for cysts or fluids of all types to spurt unexpectedly and that’s all part of this job. Hope you weren’t eating while you read that if you have a sensitive stomach.

Another first this week, I’m standing there undressing the people for post-mortem for the day and I think to myself ‘I’ll try this one today’ without really considering much other than the fact they were in the middle and I seem to have adopted the middle table as my own when I’m in the room. While talking to my colleague I just glanced across at the person’s face and a sudden realisation came over me. ‘I know them!’ erupted out of my mouth before I thought of it and I gradually realised from where. Not a close friend, or someone really familiar but enough that I knew their name. Some might find that weird, but by working in a mortuary in your local area I’m afraid it’s bound to happen. If I think about the number of people I know around here, and who I’ve met in my thirty years, eventually someone I knew was going to arrive.

It was a weird feeling but I’d already come to terms with this happening and it wasn’t a bad weird feeling. My job helps people a lot, it stands to be part of the final care a person will receive in their existence and that’s a hugely important thing a lot of people can’t appreciate. I feel privileged to be able to do this, it might not be in your taste of a career but this is my passion. I faced two challenges this week that yet again I knew would come, and I’m proud that I’m still writing about them with a smile on my face and full of pride for having faced them. I haven’t even mentioned the faeces either! Though one colleague suggested I titled my blog ‘Poo & Peas’, I’ll let you imagine what that was all about.

The overall theme of this two day week was cleaning. Lots of cleaning. Cleaning the room, cleaning the tools, the tables, the people, myself at the end of the day. My advice to anyone who wants to do this role, make sure you’re not against spending a lot of your time with disinfectant and bleach. It’s a great job if you want to throughly enjoy taking a shower.

Thank for reading and as always throw your questions or comments my way!

MG x

I’m Never Far From the Dead

As I said earlier this week, I had some time off work and yesterday I had arranged to meet my friend Joely in Chelmsford before heading into London in the evening. It would appear I can’t do anything or go anywhere now without checking out a graveyard or two.

In Chelmsford a short walk down from the station there is Chelmsford Cathedral. We wandered around the shops for most of the day but in between we took a little stroll through the grounds of the cathedral. First thing I noticed about the gravestones was those by the cathedral itself were all chilling out on the floor. Monuments still stood on the outskirts but all the normal headstones were flat on their backs. As we walked away I looked back and thought that maybe this was an aesthetic choice, without them being upright you could see clearly across the grounds and maybe the stones were considered an eye sore or a bit morbid and not the look they were going for?

Resting headstones peeking through the grass.

I have done a bit of research on this today, and nowhere on the internet could I find any explanation why these are this way here. There are a series of articles however from the early 2000s when a lot of councils decided that headstones could be a health hazard after a child was killed when one toppled on top of him in 2000, among other accidents and deaths from falling stones in cemeteries.

Articles here-

BBC News Article

Reading Chronicle Article

Scotsman Article

Whether the headstones in Chelmsford Cathedral Cemetery are flat because of the look or because of safety, it is interesting because my immediate reaction was not one of distaste. To me, if a headstone is upright or flat doesn’t necessarily matter and I feel I would only object if they were removed completely. Although a lot of the articles I found were local media outlets with quite a few enraged family members who’s relatives headstones had been flattened without consultation. I don’t agree with that at all.

Later on in the evening, my other half and I did a mini pub crawl through Shoreditch in the city. In the penultimate pub, I was told ‘There’s another pub not far from here but we have to walk through a graveyard to get there’. So I grinned and agreed that one more pub on the other side of a graveyard was an excellent idea. Some mumbling about how I’m only interested in ‘blog fodder’ and a short walk later and I found myself wandering through the 4 acres and 120,000 graves at Bunhill Fields.

Bunhill Fields Burial Grounds Sign

Bunhill Fields was an open cemetery but is now a public garden and park. It effectively appears as a long path through the middle with fenced off tightly packed headstones along either side. Although, there are other paths and parts that I did not see, a perfect excuse to go back one day. My first thought was that there were largely headstones and minimal monuments here unlike the other cemeteries we have been visiting but I think we missed some of the larger monuments from the other side.

Aren’t the daffodils pretty?!

Burials started on this land in 1665 although it had been used as a kind of cemetery of sorts up until this point just not in an official way. It is believed burials took place here from Saxon times, and a hill of bones (probably influencing the name) was created here after St. Paul’s was demolished and rebuilt. The plague forced a solution for extra burial ground to be found and Bunhill was one such place. In 1854 after nearly 200 years, the cemetery was deemed full and this meant an order for its closure was placed. Interestingly, Bunhill was a place where Nonconformists were buried who were Protestants who did not want to follow the established Church of England. I believe one of the Magnificent Seven we are yet to visit is also a burial ground for these people. It was also known as a site for the burials of many literary figures and somewhere in the mass of graves you can find Daniel Defoe and William Blake. Wikipedia has a long list of notable burials here if you want to know more.

Propped up headstones against the railings

We stumbled upon Bunhill after a few pints and as the sun was setting. We didn’t stop long but it was great to have a visit and see another of London’s cemeteries and find out a bit about it. Next week I have a few more days off and some exciting adventures coming up so watch this space. Lastly, I’d like to mention we went to see the wonderful Wooden Overcoats live last night and if you haven’t checked it out yet then please make sure you do.

Have a great weekend and get in touch if you have any questions or comments- or especially if you know a bit more about the flat headstones in Chelmsford!

MG x

The Day They Gave Me A Scalpel

I knew the day was coming, but I did not know it was so soon or I would have got crazy excited/nervous and freaked out about it! As per any day when we are conducting post-mortems in the mortuary, we started by getting the people out of the fridges and loading them onto the struts which alongside the metal tray from the fridge effectively makes the autopsy table. This sits over part of the sink at the end and has a prop to create an angle of the tray so the water (and other fluids) can drain through a hole at the end of the tray. It’s a cool and clever set up that is slightly different in each mortuary I’ve seen but has the same results.

I don’t have a photo of the post-mortem room, so here’s a photo of my feet in my wellies. You’re welcome.

As we were undressing the people, which is quite hard especially when people wear lots of layers in winter, my colleague asked me if I’d like to do my first evisceration. I’m pretty sure I got wide-eyed and then nodded enthusiastically, something like that anyway. ‘Open them up here’ she said, pointing a line down their chest and then turned to carry on with what she was doing. Cautiously I found a scalpel from a tray of tools and asked if I could use it from my other colleague. She smiled and said that of course I could use it and away I went holding a very sharp implement and a terrified look.

Hovering over the person I was about to open, I thought about where and didn’t take long to make the first incision and pull the scalpel along their sternum. I hesitated at the end and looked up for support, there stood my colleague who urged me to continue. I knew that I had to be careful because past the sternum is the soft, squidgy bit of your abdomen that a scalpel can easily dig into and open up your bowel or stomach. I was shown that once a small hole is made under the skin and fat, you can lift this layer up with your finger so you can cut through and easily avoid the organs below.

I continued like this and was shown how to open the chest, remove the small and large bowel and the kidneys. The rest of the organs too, and then opening the skull and removal of the brain. I’ve got alright at the brain recently and can do that with minimal help I think! 9 so far, I’m still counting. Each part my colleague showed me what to do and then let me do it. There were a few points of slicing through things I shouldn’t have but I will learn from my mistakes.

So I can say I conducted my first evisceration, and it was brilliant. I’m sure that sounds like a strange way of describing it, but getting to have a go and use the tools the others use was just, simply, brilliant. I even got a round of applause from the pathologist for having done it. I completed my person by stitching the head up and then stitching them up with organs back inside after the post-mortem. I’m full of proud and having a celebratory Doom Bar tonight (if you don’t know what this is, it’s my favourite beverage and feel free to buy me one if we’re ever out!) I’ve kept this short but can certainly go into more detail of the evisceration process in future if people are interested?

I’m feeling more confident about my progress towards being qualified now and it’s a good feeling! I’m on a half day tomorrow and then off work until Tuesday. I will still be blogging over these days however as I have a lot to catch you up on now. Thank you for reading and I’m sure the above might have prompted some questions so please do ask if you have any.

MG x

The Arrivals Lounge at the Mortuary

I had a question during the week about what I had referred to as ‘the booking in process’. I think I’ve briefly covered what we do before but it’s definitely worth going into a bit more detail. Especially as this is something my manager has been focussed on recently and the whole process has changed a bit (we now have a fancy trolley to roll about as we go, think air hostess but with gloves, waste bags, shrouds, cotton wool, etc.).

You could come to our mortuary (once deceased) in a few different ways. Our mortuary is a hospital one but also serves the community. So whether you pass away in the hospital, in which case you would definitely come to the mortuary even if a short stay, or outside the hospital at some other location within the London boroughs covered, you will probably come through and pay us a visit. Some cases of people who have been sick for a long time or expected deaths outside of the hospital would go direct to the funeral directors. This all depends on whether a post-mortem is required or if they are needed to be seen by doctors to confirm the cause of death and produce the death certificate.

Those who do arrive each day are generally ‘booked in’ in the morning following their arrival. We know who is new because we have a little post box where either the hospital porters or funeral directors leave a slip with their details. They also write their names on the fridges in a red pen so you can clearly see the new people. We go round the fridges booking each one in, I like to work backwards from the last number for some reason, some work in no order and others sensibly start at number 1!

Each person is removed from the fridge and initially their identification is confirmed. Not being able to ask Mr. Smith if he is indeed Mr. Smith means we need a wristband on the person saying so. Hospital cases will have their hospital bands with date of birth too, and their hospital number which we can look up and retrieve other information such as home address. Occasionally we get hospital deceased with no wristbands, in those cases we need someone who knew them in life on the ward to come down and identify them and print wristbands to place on them.

Community cases have a wristband written by the funeral director that brought them in to us. This should have as much information as possible about the person, although sometimes this is limited if they do not have that available to them. In the event of a police case or forensic case, we are not able to open the body bag to identify the person. We go on what information we are given, and the tag on the bag with the police case number.

Once we are happy that they are who they are, we check them for condition. Hospital cases often come down to us wrapped in approximately a hundred bed sheets (that may be an exaggeration) and wrapped so tight that everything looks a bit like a mummy. We remove the unnecessary sheets (all but one) and ensure the person is wearing a shroud. On placement back in the fridge they should always be covered so you can’t see faces or arms or anything. This is a dignity aspect of the job but also exposed parts of the body can dry out or get fridge burn from the cold temperatures. We will also at this point ensure the person looks peaceful in that they have closed eyes and mouth if possible. There are a few different ways of doing this on people who’s eyes won’t stay shut or mouth won’t close. For example, a plastic collar can be placed to bring the chin up, or caps can be inserted over the eyes which hold the eyelids in place.

Community cases come in wearing the clothes they were wearing when they passed, and often in a body bag. We will do our best to ensure the person is as dignified as possibly, sometimes this means removing their clothing and placing them in a shroud and sheet like the hospital cases (we keep their clothing if not soiled or damaged by the emergency services). If they are to go for a post-mortem their clothing will be removed and they will always be placed in a shroud afterwards. We will usually be notified of whether this is a requirement not long after they arrive.

There are some other checks we perform before they are placed back in the fridge. We check for jewellery or possessions and note these to be recorded. We also check them for medical devices like pacemakers or ICDs, if present these are also noted and recorded. We lastly measure them in feet & inches for their size. Funeral directors will call on a daily basis and ask about the sizes of people we are looking after, this is often so they can prepare the coffins for them but can also be if a person is larger than average and needs more people to come and assist in moving them.

These details noted, the red name is rubbed off and the name rewritten in another colour denoted by the month they are arriving in (March is currently green). To finish we update a big whiteboard by the office with the names of the new arrivals and then update our records with their details. Depending on how many people arrived, this process can take a couple of hours or all day.

I hope that answers some of your questions! I have no doubt however it probably has also sparked some more, so please do ask in the comments or on social media if you have anything else you would like to know. I’ve not gone into masses of detail here or this post could have been epic novel in length.

Thank you as always for reading and get in touch!

MG x

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