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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