Unsettling Things Part I

Influenced slightly by the current weather here and the feeling it induces by not being able to make its mind up whether to be bright sunshine or pouring rain, I am focusing on what I can only describe as the ‘unsettling’ aspects of my job for my first blog series for some time.

There’s a lot that people find unsettling or unsavoury about what I do for a living. One of them, is how much I love it. I find that strange, because no one would do my job if they didn’t absolutely love it in nearly every way. Although it is rewarding, obviously there are aspects that I think a lot of people would struggle with. There’s also lots of things I think people imagine are involved which couldn’t be less accurate if they tried.

One very true aspect many people find unsettling are body fluids. Yes, we see a lot of varied types and a large amount of fluids. Everything from what you might expect, like blood, through to things even we aren’t sure what they are. Some people are just very fluid based at death, something the wards like to note as ‘leaky’ or, even more unsettling, ‘oozy’. However, I’ve seen it written that everyone ‘purges’ fluid at death which is simply not true. To a large extent, most people do not and even those who do can be cleaned up to be fluid free. On the other side of that, unfortunately some people can be very swollen and ‘oedematous’ or ‘edematous’ where fluid has accumulated throughout the body.

I’m often asked if the deceased move, or make noises. By and large this is a no, they never move and I don’t know anyone who has seen anybody move in any way. Occasionally your eye may think that you see movement, but I’m sure I’ve read somewhere your brain fills in with movement of a still person because it thinks they should move. Very occasionally deceased people make noises, and only when they are moved in some way. Air escapes them in the same way a living person would have air escape, and if it crosses the larynx it can activate the vocal chords and create a short and low rumble like groan. That is unsettling even for us but I’ve only ever heard it a few times in nearly four years.

Creepy crawlies are a tad unsettling, especially as they do actually move. By the nature of our work, and very much depending on where a deceased is found, then sometimes we have little wee beasties accompany them into our care. It’s not uncommon in summer to see fly eggs on anyone who has died outside or had a window open, but we also see a range of other insects at different times. Our main priority with this is to prevent any form of infestation in the mortuary. By ensuring the deceased is within a body bag this is one way of preventing escape. We also have a chemical fluid we can use which kills the tiny animals without any harm to the deceased person, and we use this in all cases where anything from fly eggs to living insects are present.

I think I’ve covered a few interesting things there and given you an insight into our experiences with them. Each mortuary will be different and each APT or mortuary assistant will have different experiences so please comment below if you would like to add anything! Stay tuned for part II next week.

MG x

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