(Outfit of the Day!)
I am often asked what I wear at work, and to start with on the first few occasions I kind of just assumed it was a slightly odd and prying question. Maybe it would be to see if I was wearing the correct stuf, like checking up on a trainee. However, I am asked quite a lot what I wear, what personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn in the post-mortem room, or even very specific questions about what brand of gloves we use. Here I want to provide you an insight into our outfits and equipment we use to work and keep us safe. Please note that as far as I know, through my limited experience in the past year, each mortuary and person who works there is different and has different preferences! This article only gives you an insight into the mortuary I work at and what I do or have learnt from those I work with.
To start, each morning when I arrive I change from my own clothes into scrubs. There are lots of different colours of scrubs available but I tend to wear green for post-mortems or work like that, or black if we have visitors, meetings or training sessions inside or outside of the mortuary. A lot of people around the hospital wear green scrubs every day, including doctors so i’ve occasionally been mistaken for a doctor while walking around the hopsital. No one else wears the black scrubs so this often prompts questions of where I work. I personally prefer our black scrubs, purely because they have a load of pockets whereas the green ones have just one. Anything with multiple pockets is amazing in my eyes.
In true Mortuary Gem style there had to be a photo with a Snapchat filter. Green scrubs vs. black scrubs.
On my feet most of the time are clog type rubber shoes. Like Crocs but without the holes on the top. Plus stripy Harry Potter socks, because why not. Everyone wears these (clogs; not the socks) but I have a purple pair that I acquired when I started working here. Other people wear black ones or blue ones. They’re as comfy as slippers but as ugly as actual clogs. I have a massive love/hate relationship with them.
I have all four Hogwarts Houses socks which I wear whichever I think suits my mood that day. Plus some generic Hogwarts and Fantastic Beasts socks. Yep, some days are Slytherin days.
The gloves we use in the fridge room are thin enabling you to work easier. They come in four sizes (small to extra large) and are placed in racks around the room at the doorways. I tend to wear medium but I can squeeze my hand into a small. They are usually purple or light blue like the photo below. They come in a box of loose gloves and you can take any to fit any hand.
Fridge room gloves, in the lovely purple colour.
The only time we add extra protective equipment really is inside the post-mortem room. The full outfit is the scrubs on underneath a surgical gown, apron, plastic oversleeves, gloves, hair/head cover and eye protectors or glasses. On our feet we wear wellies, or some people enter the post-mortem room with shoe covers over their own shoes, for example the forensic team when we have a forensic post-mortem.
The full stunning outfit with gown and without so you just have scrubs underneath
The surgical gown can be a blue silk gown like you see surgeons wear on tv. They have a high collar and tie at the back. Some are long and others are shorter but they come in so many different sizes and lengths it’s pot luck really. We get these from the hospital laundry along with the green scrubs. We also have once use only gowns that come in vacuum packs. They have a Velcro neck that I’m never sure if I’ve fastened correctly because it either is too tight or comes undone, and tie around the middle again. The upside to the disposable ones is that they breath a bit better I don’t sweat all the time when it’s hot. Obviously they do go in the waste after but the silk gowns are sent back to laundry to be treated and washed.
A not-very-helpful photo of a pile of silk gowns
The disposable gown packaging
A green plastic apron goes over the top of the gown and is to stop splashes or blood soaking through. They are long so cover your front all the way down to your wellies, pretty handy if someone accidentally fires a hose of water in your direction. I find the neck is low on these so I tend to stretch the loop and then knot it tighter so the neckline is higher. Just a personal preference I’ve figured out.
Apron-over-gown-over-scrubs-under-wellies and clogs to one side
The plastic sleeves are for a similar purpose. Water or other fluids splash up our arms and the last thing you need is that soaking through. Also sometimes you’re required to go further that glove deep into something. Not always as bad as you might think, occasionally it’s a bowl or sink of water! Although, all this plastic does make for a very hot outfit that’s just made for sweat. If you need to flex your muscles to do something or move around a lot then I nearly always break out in a sweat. I accept I’m not the fittest of them all but I think most people are in the same boat.
Gown sleeves with and without the plastic oversleeves
Glove wise we have two types in the post mortem room. We have these thicker blue gloves that are like rubber gloves with a rolled end and again they come in a box where you can just take two and they fit either hand. These blue gloves are also labelled Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large; again I take a medium. The other type are cream coloured and come in a box of paired packets which are labelled left and right. They are thinner but stronger and fit snugly to the hand, sized with numbers. I tend to use a 6.5 or a 7, and everyone seems to double up on these so I often do too. This can mean wearing a 6.5 and then a 7 on top. I like these gloves a lot as you can feel a lot more of what you are doing.
The blue thicker gloves not unlike but slightly thinner than the washing up gloves my mum used to own
The thinner gloves shown over the oversleeves, the boxes and the packet with right and left denoted
There’s two types of head or hair covers, one with an elastic back and one with a tie back. I always wear the yellow elastic back type and it fits snugly that most of the time I forget it’s even there. Which suits me fine! I haven’t actually tried the blue type but I probably should at some point. I wear my glasses and consider that eye protection as you’ve probably noticed from photos, but I know I should wear the proper stuff and have done before. We also have full face visors for when you need extra protection, or just masks for the mouth. Although I have found that masks just fog my visor or glasses when I breath which is not at all helpful.
Wellington boots are a must in the post-mortem room because of the water and other fluids that are on the floor. Other footwear is actually really slippery! I remember seeing in a Green Wing episode the mortuary team walking in file around the hospital all wearing wellingtons. Well we never do that; they don’t leave the post-mortem room and only go into the changing area after a good scrub with water and bleach!
In the photo above with the mask on my face, I am wearing a full body suit which zips up the front like a onesie, it even has a hood. This is used mainly for ‘high risk’ but also for messier than usual cases. Not pictured, but we have some respirators that are used for airborne or other situations when you might not want to breathe anything in. They are a full face mask that is sealed around your head, but with your ears on the outside which feels bizarre. There is a long tube that runs down your back to a pack that has filters which is fixed around your waist. I’ve only tried them on and I put them together with a colleague when they arrived, I’m not permitted to work on high risk cases yet so I won’t use them for work for some time.
In addition to what I wear, another question I was asked is if the different items we wear are recycled in any way. Waste and what we do with it has been a big focus of the mortuary and the hospital as a whole for some time. We recently switched a proportion of our waste to a different kind so it isn’t so costly or damaging to the environment when disposed of. Unfortunately however, some of our waste must be incinerated due to the danger it poses if it has been for a patient with a particular condition or illness. This is both costly and damaging but necessary. All of the packaging and non-infected waste is recycled or sent for recycling. The rest is given treatment which I believe means it is disposed of in the best way possible. What I do know is that although there are limitations as to what can be done with a lot of hospital waste, improvements are being made all the time to reduce the environmental damage caused.
I hope that this post has been as accurate as possible, has answered many questions and has been informative for everyone. If it has led to further questions, please do get in touch as I am happy to answer anything else you want to know!