Three Mystery Tools, Two Decomp People & a Council Meeting in the City

I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble the last week or so. I feel utterly exhausted constantly the reason for which I’m not sure if it is because I’m genuinely tired, the b12 tablets are not working or, self-diagnosed, I have some degree of Seasonal Affected Disorder. Just all round I have no energy for much at all, which is proving rather challenging!

Busy doesn’t even really cover it. We are the busiest we have been for a long time. I’m regularly feeling my Fitbit buzz to tell me I’ve hit 10,000 steps well before my working day has ended. Half of that is running lengths of the mortuary at the other hospital to either answer the phone or the doorbell which can be at either end. I try not to miss people so it often involves sprinting.

On Tuesday we had two ‘decomps’ to post-mortem, and myself with the other trainee were tasked with completing them. One was not as bad as the other, by not as bad I mean not as decomposed. There tends to be stages which range from just what seems to be a smell and a change in skin colour, to full on massive changes in the body. I won’t go into masses of detail as always, but I will say that I am rather proud of us coping with the smells that we encountered, plus we received some lovely comments from the pathologist who completed the post-mortem (comments regarding the work, not the bad smells). I do feel I will remember for a long time trying to remove a brain which is effectively mush. It really reminded me of an episode of izombie, you will know what I am talking about if you have ever watched that programme and I highly recommend you do if you haven’t.

Looking fabulous as always in a Tyvek suit and wellington boots. The end outfit is this plus an apron, sleeve protectors, gloves and a face mask.

On Wednesday, I attended a council meeting with the AAPT. It was the first real action I’ve had as Student Representative and I really had a great time. It was fabulous to meet everyone and put faces to names, plus everyone is just really nice and friendly which is only to be expected as a profession known to have a cheery disposition! Lots of things were discussed, and actually it was fantastic to hear about the latest goings on plus particular concerns with our industry. I feel like I have a thirst for knowledge and involvement in these things and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of the council. I also notably got to meet the organiser of the training course I will be beginning in February and he was really encouraging about working together going forward. I’m super lucky to have the support from my manager and trust in undertaking this venture and I hope this start means I can be involved with the AAPT for a long time.

Yesterday we had no pathologist available so could not do any post mortems, therefore myself and the other trainee cleaned nearly every door and wall in the mortuary in the morning, of which there are loads! Armed with a bucket of cleaning solution and cloths we went round scrubbing down all the surfaces we could. One thing I try to always tell people when they enquire about pursuing a career like mine is that a large part of this job is cleaning. I can’t lie, I’m not the biggest fan of cleaning but I do find that with some music, and/or a colleague to talk to, it’s actually quite a fun part of the job in a weird way.

My manager won an award this week! Congratulations!

This week we had the fabulous news that our manager had won an award he was nominated for in the category of Care and Compassion. We are so proud as a team of him winning this award and also how we work together to provide the care we do. This is largely in relation to the training we provide to nurses and others but also the hard work put in to provide the best care we can. Winning awards like this is great because it highlights the work done in the mortuary that people may not necessarily be aware of or want to think about.

Mystery Tool Number 3- what could they be for?

Today we have our Christmas meal out in the evening which I am looking forward to, and we are also exchanging our Secret Santa gifts. I’ll be sure to let you know what I get. For now, I’ll leave you with Mystery Tool Number 3!! Yes, they are scissors, but why do they have that rounded end and what are they used for? Current or past mortuary workers need not reply thank you! I hope you are all enjoying the festive season and have a good weekend.

MG x

December So Far (Plus mystery Tool Number 2 reveal!)

We are well into the flow of December and I feel like making up my own 12 days of Christmas. Needs work but this is what I have so far…

I know it’s awful, and I’m the worst for thinking I am remotely funny just because I crack myself up! Work has really ramped up and we’ve had to be quite on top of things. It’s times like these I think I feel like I’m treading water not very well to try and be as useful as possible but struggling. I got particularly annoyed with myself for needing as much help as I did during the eviscerations on Tuesday when really I need to take a step back and realise even the well experienced need help every now and then. It went much better today and I feel a lot better about how well it’s going luckily. I do get terribly frustrated with myself sometimes.

We’ve been full on training this week with the usual nurses and healthcare assistant training which I always find fun. I’ve said it before, but I never imagined myself feeling comfortable standing in front of a big group of people but death is something I could talk about for hours if you’d let me.

Of course, at Death Cafe they do let me! We had our December and final Death Cafe of 2018 on Tuesday which was a very intense but successful evening. We had a lovely PhD student pop along for some research which was brilliant and we discussed some very hard hitting subjects along with some lighter topics. Not every event needs to be or is as intense as this one and I think it really depends on who is present to influence the kinds of discussions we have. The dates are just being finalised for January and February and I’m working on the flyers as we speak. I’ll release them out as soon as they are confirmed and if you would like to know more or attend please get in touch!

Mystery Tool Number Two….

Well it’s what you’ve been waiting for- Mystery Tool Number Two is…… a skull key! None the wiser? Let me explain. A good guess was it was used for some kind of scraping, and I can totally understand why however that couldn’t be further from the truth. While this nifty little thing could be used to scrape, and sometimes we might use tools for other purposes when the need demands it, it is actually used in opening the skull once sawn open. After the scalp has been opened and folded back over the face, and the skull has been cut so a section is loose with the bone saw, the sharp end of this tool is inserted into the groove made and twisted to force the cut apart. It can also be used around the cut section to loosen or open parts not entirely cut. And that’s the skull key, a handy t-shaped device! We have ones with a longer section where the sharp end is and a short one too. I have no real personal preference over which one I use yet but I know that some do.

Keep an eye out for the upcoming mystery Tool Number 3, the dates of the next Death Cafe’s and any improvements to my 12 Days of Christmas!

MG x

Formaldehyde

Recently I was sent a link to a news article by my other half. In all honesty, I saw a link to a news website and automatically assumed it was something relating to Brexit so my eye roll was long. Imagine my surprise at finding out it was this link titled ‘EU embalming fluid ban ‘to change funerals’’. I’d like to discuss my thoughts on the ban and the article itself. I have googled to find more information on this and the internet is a bit sparse with any other articles or sources of information but try it if you would like to know more.

My initial thoughts were that, pleasingly, this could influence the decrease in embalming cases that I long to see. We seem to have an assumption as a culture that embalming is always necessary and I will discuss with anyone who will listen why this is not the case. Later my thoughts and concerns turned to other aspects, sentiments that some people I know also agreed and echoed on social media. The article also has some statements that are simply not true, or are opinions presented as facts.

My main concerns are as follows. Firstly, like many others, it alarms me that the BBC journalist seems to think is not only important but also true that it is dangerous to view a non-embalmed body. This is not the case, and particularly damaging when you consider we never embalm and hold family viewings on a daily basis. It also oddly presents the idea that embalming is a traditionally Christian idea and the ‘ban’ threatens this Christian way of burial, not a concept I think is really relevant.

Secondly, the Formaldehyde they speak of is not only used in embalming but in many other situations. My job and many others come into contact with the chemical in the form of formalin. Formalin is a solution of around 40% formaldehyde that we use in order to preserve samples taken for the purposes of histology but also whole organs for examination. We come in contact with it not necessarily on a daily basis but often enough. Other jobs I know particularly include anatomists and anatomy schools who would not only embalm cadavers but also take samples and organs too. Not excluding the funeral directors we work with too. We all take precautions like wearing gloves, masks and breathing apparatus in order to protect ourselves when we do use it. More on Formaldehyde and it’s uses can be found here – https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formaldehyde.

I would like to state that I am not against embalming completely. I do believe there are situations when it is appropriate and should be used. I have even been involved in preparing one person in a situation where I believed it was worthwhile. What I disagree with is the almost roll out of it as standard practice and the lack of knowledge in the public of what is actually involved and what they are paying for. What I am trying to say is that in a situation where a family are not viewing their relative and they are being cremated or buried relatively quickly, I can only see the deceased person being embalmed as a way for the undertaker to make some extra money. I cannot see why a family should be encouraged for it at all in that scenario. The BBC article is inflammatory in that it only reinforces the thoughts that embalming is a necessary process, and it should never be said that you can only view the deceased if they have been embalmed.

Back to the actual ban, it would seem that not only is there no actual ban, the funeral industry has been granted three years in which to figure out an alternative. Something I hope goes in the direction of reducing the harsh chemicals used routinely but I fear will only lead to another chemical taking its place. What this means for academic and clinical practice situations I am not certain and I’m unable to find any real information. I can only think of keeping my eyes and ears open for any information going forward, so if you have any extra information please get in touch! I think the ban is actually on the use of formalin and there will be restricted use allowed but I would be interested to see what this entails.

For now I’ll leave you with Mystery Tool number two! Any guesses (still I will only accept answers from people who do not or have never worked in a mortuary setting please!) on what this might be and what it could be used for?

Mystery Tool Number 2- to be revealed soon!

MG x

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