A huge misconception around mortuary work is that we do makeup and embalming. Some mortuary technicians do but they work at funeral directors or independently and it’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. I would love to learn how to do these things but they are very different to my day to day activities.
As a mortuary assistant, when I first began working at the mortuary, the main part of my job was to book in the new residents at the start of the day. While booking in includes checking their identity bands match the other data we have and noting aspects like property or size, it also includes noting the condition of people. Sometimes those who come from the community are not in the best condition considering they have probably died at home. Those who die in hospital will have been washed on the ward and ideally will be clean when we book them in. This is not always the case however, due to events such as purging or wounds or other things. I would like to warn you there is most likely a higher number of gross things mentioned in this post than normal!
Patients in our care can purge fluid quite readily from their mouth or nose. This is stomach fluid being forced out by gases and can be very corrosive to the skin due to its acidic nature so must be cleaned. We can try to stop this with cotton wool if needed or try to get out most of the fluid by turning the patient. In most scenarios, if we raise their head onto a polystyrene headblock it prevents fluid escaping quite effectively.
The other way patients can ‘leak’ or ‘ooze’ (nurses seem to love describing it as ooze for some reason) is through any medical interventions such as cannulas. As a matter of procedure we ask the wards to leave anything like this in when they send people down. Otherwise a patient can be sat in sheets soaked in their own blood overnight. Once a person dies the clotting factor in the blood no longer activates meaning even the tiniest hole can bleed and bleed. We can remove these if the funeral directors or family request upon collection however and after a time period the blood has settled.
Finally some patients are, simply, very fluidy. Fluidy is not an actual word but it’s sounds like it should be and I use it often. Oedema is where fluid is retained and often occurs in the feet ankles and legs of those less mobile. It can, in fact, just occur about anywhere in the body and fluid can build up in any tissue where it may not be draining from. One thing I found fascinating, and mostly new, from learning anatomy was the lymphatic system and how it channels fluid away from places like the leaky capillaries in the extremities back into the main bloodstream. Oedematous people are what I call fluidy. Their skin can feel slimy and swollen, and a lot of unwell people can experience this.
We use cleaning products in the mortuary such as bleach and detergent, but for people we also use shower gel and shampoo like the ones you use at home. Not like the ones I use at home because I used to use the same ones sometimes but I don’t like to be reminded of work while I’m in the shower anymore. We clean people’s hair, bodies and wash them, not unlike the healthcare assistants on the wards. We even have dry shampoo for when it needs a bit of oomph without needing a wash.
I hope this post has been interesting, I think I found it very enlightening when I first learnt these things. Next installment for Part 3 is yet to be decided so any suggestions are always appreciated!