How Splenunculus!

Doesn’t it sound like something completely amazing and fabulous. I think I will refer to anything wonderful from now on as splenunculus! It’s actually a little thing that the human body can do, where the spleen doesn’t form in the usual way and creates a little tiny accessory spleen. That little guy is called a splenunculus. Cool right?

A tiny accessory spleen, or splenunculus if you will

Another crazy busy week spent filled with anxiety about not getting enough done while actually doing an awful lot. On Tuesday I attended a talk with Laura T where Dame Sue Black was interviewed about her life as a forensic anthropologist and about her book. It was a fascinating talk which I enjoyed, even if I don’t always agree with her opinions on certain aspects. I can’t lie, her book I had borrowed from Laura D and has been on a huge pile I’ve mentally noted as ‘to read at some point or another’. I now have my own copy which I can place there so at least I can give it back!

Terrible lighting and a poor attempt at an arty photograph

It was my turn in the post mortem room this week, most notably was the day that I spent asking people if they could smell poo on me. Sometimes certain smells, no matter how much you scrub, just won’t come off. Luckily no one actually said they could smell it, so it would appear it was one of those times the smell has just kind of got stuck in my nose (for want of a better term!) and I could smell it only myself. At the same time, I had quite a difficult evisceration to complete but gave my best shot at doing the three block technique and the pathologist seemed quite impressed. I then mistook a rather large spleen for a liver later on and I think she stopped being impressed with me at all.

Outside of that I’ve been cracking on with my assignments for my course, sneaking a bit of typing or reading whenever I can. I’m aiming to have them all at least in rough draft soon so I can feel a bit more chilled about it all and focus on some revision for the exam in May.

As part of my Health &. Safety assignment my camera roll has been filled with amazing photos like this one of a fire extinguisher

Rockstar the cat was back at the vets this week, he had to have four of his teeth removed as he’s an old little chap and they had rotted. That all happened a day after I had a visit to another East London hospital to find out that I have to have my four wisdom teeth removed in May. I’m not really happy about the fact I’ll be having my first very general anaesthetic too. Not very splenunculus at all.

Post-teeth removal Rockstar cheekily lying on all my reading material for the evening

Next Tuesday is the March Upminster Death Cafe which I hope will be a good one. Have a lot of people who have been in touch. The April and May dates have been confirmed which is great too. I was hoping to be involved in a project called Departure Lounge which is upcoming in May and June but sadly I can’t make the training dates. However I have just been asked to do a talk to some junior doctors about evisceration in September which is very exciting!

Death Cafe is next Tuesday!

That’s all from me for now, hope you have a splenunculus weekend!

MG x

So You’re Dead… Were You Prepared?

I think one of the biggest things I seem to metaphorically bang my head against the wall about is the fact people have no idea what to do when someone dies. Culture appears to have, for the last several decades, really tried to put people off discussing death. Especially with our nearest and dearest. In very simple terms, this means as and when people do die, those left behind are very much left at the mercy of those in the business and trust them to do the right thing. But what is the ‘right’ thing that needs to happen? Well in reality there is no right thing, there is only what people truly want and often this is not what happens.

In the past, undertakers have been very good at recommending what should happen to us after we die. They sell plans aplenty to the ageing population and service the bereaved left with the task of arranging funerals for their loved ones. The problem I have with this is two fold, they sell plans that often are not quite as clear and straightforward as they seem and they are selling funerals to people at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. I am in no way saying that all undertakers are money grabbing vultures, but they have become very good at making a lot of money out of their businesses that’s for certain. I do see a lot of very honest people working in the profession too, newer businesses starting up with clear and simple upfront prices that don’t bamboozle the grief stricken.

There really is only one way of combatting this and that is to arm ourselves with the knowledge we need to make an informed decision. The best time to do this is well before we are in a position to have to make it, well before the emotions involved may take the wheel and steer us in a direction we wouldn’t normally choose. Haste is not something you would want to have when deciding something very important like this.

Personally I think just having a think about what you wouldn’t want is a start. Would you rather be buried or cremated? Would you like neither? Do you even know what other options there are? Do you want flowers or think they’re a waste of money? Would you like people to wear a certain colour other than the standard black? Do you know what your family would want? What they could afford once you are gone?

It’s a matter with so many involving factors it’s something that needs to be discussed. One thing I think is the least helpful is something I have witnessed a few times at work when a deceased loved one has told their next of kin ‘I want as little fuss as possible and as little as possible spent’. This rules out the expensive but easy funeral director route and leaves a lot of people scratching their heads. The issues here is, it can be done for very little when done yourself but do you really want to be finding out how at that stressful time or know well in advance what needs to occur to make it happen. I hate to say I told you so, but the death anxiety in our culture has made this so very hard and it’s only damaging ourselves.

If I have one piece of advice it’s to do some research. Have a think about it. Approach the conversation with someone close to you. I promise you this can only be a help for a time when you either can’t or don’t want to do it.

MG x

The Smelly World

What an odd week it has been. I can’t deny that I’m very aware of how often I say that but it has been a very odd week. I won’t go into too many details but it’s noticeable the nicer weather is having an impact on the deaths around here, and by that I mean they appear to be decreasing in numbers! I’ve said that and next week will be busy now, but that’s always the way it seems.

On Wednesday I headed with Laura D to The Vaults festival at Waterloo to see Dead End, a play about death (or so it advertised!). Honestly, I don’t mean to be cruel and I did find the play very funny in parts, but it had little relevance to death in the whole. It’s set in a graveyard of a church, it would seem that there is a body found at the start, and it is hinted that there is a real feeling of grief and bereavement in one character that is never really explored. I can only say it seems a shame that they could have done a lot more with the subject, however I did appreciate the leaflets spread about the seats before the play started pointing the audience in the direction of sources of support for anyone experiencing similar feelings. I have attended the Vaults before and this year I was pleased to see they have joined with St. Thomas’ Hospital to discuss death and bereavement, a great way of reaching out to people!

I gave the usual Care After Death training to the nursing staff this week, crammed more people than usual into the smaller of our two mortuaries and went through with them what we do there. It’s really pleasing to see these numbers of people attend (because people want to be there I hope and not because it’s mandatory training!). It’s so important people across the hospital understand what we do and don’t add to the myths and mystery surrounding the mortuary.

Unfortunately spring time does have one impact on those that have died. We get a little influx of decomposed people. Putting it in the nicest of ways, as the weather warms up these people are often found easier because of the smell. It’s a good job we took a delivery of what I call smelly sand, but officially known as Odour Neutralizing Granules. It’s wonderful stuff you can put with people who have, well and odour about them, and it helps to keep the smell down. I wanted to share the slogan on the bottle because I think it’s wonderful!

“Saving you from a Smelly World”!!

That’s all from me this week, I’m keeping very busy with my coursework and other things. Thankfully not feeling overwhelmed just yet, but I’ll try to keep that feeling away for as long as possible!! Also, a belated Happy International Women’s Day to all the women out there, I celebrated by going to see Captain Marvel which I cannot recommend more highly if you’re stuck for what to do this weekend.

MG x

So You’re Dead…. Where Are You?

Everybody knows that one day we are going to die, sorry to break that to you if you didn’t. However we usually never know when, how, why or where that will happen (that Uncertain Certain I wrote about previously). ‘Where’ is a big issue amongst the dying industry of late because it would seem more and more people are dying in hospital. The reason this is an issue is because most people would, when asked, choose to die at home. A lot has been discussed on this topic in the media recently, and I think this has a lot to do with the death positivity movement and the move towards a form of ownership over our own deaths.

If you thought that was a discussion around your spiritual location as opposed to your physical one, sorry that’s not really anything I know or discuss very often. I usually get asked on a regular basis if I believe in any religion, the answer is no. I also get asked if I believe in ghosts, and the answer to that is a shrug of the shoulders and I’d tell you that I don’t really know.

Back to your physical body. Chances are in the current circumstances you will be likely to die in a hospital. Either as an admitted patient on a ward or in an emergency department or A&E. I can only use our hospital as an example but when this happens the patient is ideally moved within four hours of death to the hospital mortuary. The porters transfer the patient who is then moved to a fridge space accordingly. During their time in the mortuary they might move around, only within the confines of the mortuary but they could be taken out of the fridge for a viewing, post-mortem or both during their time with us. Occasionally there might be a need to move people to contingency spaces which are slightly smaller than normal so small people are moved to make spaces in the average sized spaces. If their length of stay is anticipated to be lengthy then we may also move people to our freezer, or for other reasons.

If you die at home, you pretty much have three possibilities. If you require further investigation or a post mortem then you would go to a mortuary either public or in a hospital. If you don’t, then you go straight to the funeral directors, or via a combination of discussions you could remain at home until the funeral. Many are not aware that this is a viable (or believe it to be a preferential) option but it is available if you would like it to be. It is actually becoming more common that people arrange funerals themselves without involving a funeral director which would also involve the deceased being at home for some time unless they are at the mortuary for longer until burial/cremation.

I think the point of this post is to inform that there are options and you do not need to be dictated to about where you die or where you end up once dead. The only aspect there is no choice behind is whether or not you need a coronial post-mortem, if the coroner decides that you do then this must be enforced. It is important that people think and discuss these, if only just to be aware and be able to be informed of a decision needs to be made. I don’t believe in people being dictated to in death just as you would not accept it in life.

If there’s anything I have not covered or you would like more information then please get in touch!

MG x

Things I Learnt In Hartlepool (Part 1 of 5)

As I mentioned before, my training requires me to go to Hartlepool five times this year to study for my Diploma. The last three days I have spent in the North-East having a lovely time, learning lots and meeting some great people. Here’s a quick update of where I’m at as my train speeds it’s way back to London.

Getting a group of people together who work in mortuaries is like giving us all a licence to talk. It’s a bizarre thing to witness, discussing mortuary work in fairly hushed voices in a pub like some secret society. However, we got slightly louder when discussing the course and then more trainees joined us after hearing our conversation and realising we were on it too. So then the hushed conversation became bigger but still hushed nonetheless! It’s not as though we ever discuss anything we shouldn’t, but we’re not sure how people would react listening to us discuss was protective equipment we use or how many post-mortems we’ve completed!

In that vein, it is a strange thing but it cannot be denied that every mortuary seems to do something very different to somewhere else. Our dinner on the second night consisted of eight of us from all over the UK (fairly widespread), comparing everything from our equipment, to team sizes, to tools used, to how our department fits in with the hospital or wherever it may be based. Turns out this is a discussion that can go on for some time, with so many differences it seems strange and a bit baffling.

Hartlepool itself is lovely, even if I’ve only really seen the Marina area. Our first evening there it was really sunny and warm which was nice, the other days it’s been a bit more grey but not raining which seemed good. One thing we were advised to do was to give the Monkey a visit. The full back history of the Hartlepool Monkey can be found here, but the basic story is that it’s thought in the Napoleonic Wars some locals mistakenly thought a shipwrecked monkey was a French sailor and he was hanged. A bit along the marina from our hotel is a bronze monkey hanging out by a lock with a bowl to throw money into. One of our course facilitators told us to do this and it ensures that we will pass, so of course we obliged!

The Hartlepool Monkey Just hanging out by a lock

So what did I actually learn while studying? A fairly in depth exploration of Health and Safety in the mortuary and an introduction to Microbiology which nearly made my head explode. My poor cell anatomy knowledge was really put to shame finding out that a lot of cells are a lot more than cytoplasm and nuclei. Therefore I discovered I have a lot of work to put in before I’m back there in May, got three assignments to be getting on with, a portfolio to build and an exam to study for. Feeling slightly overwhelmed is an understatement but I’ll get there. I threw money to the Monkey after all.

MG x

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