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

Platform 9 3/4

Or actually Platform 8, but I can dream that I’m finally aboard the Hogwarts Express and not a Grand Central train about to depart for Sunderland swinging by Hartlepool on the way.

It’s actually happening. I’m off on my first of five trips up North to begin learning and training for my qualification. I’m going to learn the ins and outs of being an APT with a whole bunch of other cool people doing the same thing. Plus I bagged a window seat which makes this trip even better. The train is warm and stuffy, but the sun is shining and my sunglasses are in reach at least which is good because I think once we’ve pulled out of the station the sun will be directly in my eyes. After note, I wasn’t wrong about that.

All-Weather Gemma (my alter-ego) is always prepared

I had a good start to this week, I had a busy day on Monday in the post-mortem room and felt good about my skills leading up to today. Then yesterday I had a great day, performed two eviscerations and then assisted the pathologist and felt like I was so happy with where I am at right now. The brain count is up to 78, surpassing my 75 milestone that I was aiming for and already made a start towards 100. The skills I want to try and improve in the post-mortem room going forward are to perfect the three block technique because I tend to not be able to get the organs out correctly when I attempt this.

On a personal level, I’ve had a noticeable improvement since the first two weeks of the year where I had a panic attack followed by a bout of gastroenteritis. I’ve been having some counselling sessions and focusing on small achievable goals with the ‘Counsellor Man’ as I’ve been referring to him as. We discussed how nervous I was about this trip today, turns out in my classic way I’m more nervous about this journey, the hotel and the people I meet along the way than I am about the actual studying. I don’t want to sound arrogant, I’m a natural Ravenclaw and study is my strongpoint.

I am looking forward to beginning and understanding a bit more about what this course entails. I’ve got a few bits and bobs to keep me busy while I’m on the train, a few emails and things to read plus a catch up of a couple of tv shows. I just finished Umbrella Academy this morning annoyingly but I might have to rewatch it at some point.

For now, I’ll post again when I’m on my way back and I’ll be working on my next ‘So You’re Dead…’ post too. I also just misplaced my favourite pen and I’m stuck in a window seat surrounded by passengers. This could be a long journey after all.

MG x

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

If you speak to me, or see me recently you have probably heard me say I’m tired, or thought I look rough. Truth is, I feel it! Between mystery pain and insomnia, my brain is in overdrive and it’s a really busy time of year in the death industry. I’m really proud of my team and of being a part of it this week. We’ve pulled together through some tough situations, just got on with it when we’ve been pushed to our limits and all our strength is gone. When I say strength, although you might think mental I actually mean both mental and physical. There’s been moments when my arms just don’t want to do what I need them to.

What a lot of people don’t realise is, mortuary work is very physical especially when it’s busy. You might find yourself cleaning, moving patients around or just running about trying to keep on top of phones ringing, doorbells going off and people being released to funeral directors. When I quite Archaeology I didn’t think a physical job would be part of my life again, because it felt like most jobs now are office based. Sometimes I now get time to sit at a desk and those times I relish, whereas previously the prospect of a desk job really did not appeal to me whatsoever.

In the hospital world, there is what is known as ‘Winter Pressures’. The wards feel it with meetings about beds and spaces, the emergency areas feel it with huge increases in footfall through their doors and the mortuaries feel it with constant new patients and community members arriving. It’s slightly different every year, in that the issues caused by this are different but largely space related. The other difference is that the time of year when it is at it’s worst is never predictable. It can coincide with dips in weather and temperature but it can also appear to be utterly random.

A lot goes on, some I’m aware of and some I’m sure I’m not, behind the scenes to ensure we are best prepared for these times and can cope in one way or another. It may mean just using our extra storage. It might mean transferring people to our surplus storage in an external company. The worst I’ve seen in my time at the mortuary is a concern that places are getting very full, and that even extra storage is not enough. However, there are plans, upon plans, upon plans to ensure that there is always a way to cope. This doesn’t make it any less stressful for those involved but it should calm any concerns from the public who might believe there is a problem.

February Death Cafe is coming up soon!

I do wonder if I’ll ever get used to this time of year, and not find it completely tiring. The lack of sunlight doesn’t help me and drains energy. I’m hoping for sunnier, calmer days ahead. Looking ahead, it’s not long now before I head up North to start my training officially! However, before then we have our February Death Cafe coming up on the 19th at our usual lovely venue at the usual time. Hope you can make it!

MG x

My Heart’s Still Beating

It’s been a slow start to the year but I do feel fully back in the swing of things and much better with my mental state! Still having the odd blip but that can only be expected.

This week we’ve been really quite busy, which comes with the unfortunate task of often having to not be able to give families what they always want. By that I mean, I think a lot of families believe they can either show up at any time or see their relative whenever they want. While this is something that in a perfect world would be possible, with our staffing, workload and space limitations we are very limited on the times we can offer. Viewings can be very time consuming if we have to take a lot of time to prepare the person, depending on what condition they are in, and we cannot give the amount of time demanded from us towards them. Sadly I’ve had to speak to family members on the phone and tell them they cannot come and see their relative either right at that minute, or recommend that they wait until their family member has gone to the funeral directors.

It’s one of the hardest parts of my job in all honesty, you want to be able to give people what they want but you end up some days being overwhelmed by the demands and unable to not be annoyed at some expectations. I can only recommend for anyone who thinks they would visit their family member in hospital that you call as early as possible to ensure you have better chances of getting an appointment (a bit like the GP surgery!). However, something I always do recommend is that it is better in many people’s minds to visit loved ones at the funeral directors where a lot more can be done and a lot more time dedicated. I often feel like our viewings can be very clinical and not always the best for families even though we try our best with what we have. I’m sure this could be different in other hospitals but some may agree with me. I would be interested to find out!

I had the opportunity yesterday to go into the post-mortem room with the other trainee and work together which was fantastic. We really work well and help each other with the bits we both struggle with. I’m so glad that we can share the stuff we know and I hope we can get some other occasions where we can do this going forward. I’ve really noticed recently that my confidence has grown again and come back to where it was before. I feel like the weaker points I was struggling with are becoming easier too. Really bodes well for starting my official training in a month’s time!

Finally, today I had to go for an ultrasound scan on my abdomen due to some right upper quadrant pain I’d been having which was suspected gall bladder issues. I’m pleased to say my gallbladder is fine, but now just concerned about what the pain actually could be. One funny thing however, when the man performing the scan showed me the screen I think I said ‘WOW’ a little too loudly. He went on the describe my gallbladder and what it does, and then my kidney and I had to interrupt him to explain what I do and why it was so cool to see my own. He smiled and sat back and said ‘Well you see all that movement, that your blood pumping around and you don’t get that’ which really made me laugh. Good to know my heart is in fine working order too hopefully!

Tomorrow night I’m off to an event in the city which I’m excited about. Then I have a long weekend to recover. I’ll let you all know about the event and some upcoming stuff in my next post. Hope you’re all having a good week!

MG x

Death Anxiety

I finally feel back in full swing and like I can handle the year ahead whatever it may throw in my direction. It’s only taken me over two weeks to get that New Year feeling. As promised, I would like to update you all on the goings on for the first half of this week, especially when there are some more exciting things left to happen.

On Sunday, Rachel and I hosted an event which I originally called ‘Death In The Afternoon’ but I may have to change due to a very popular podcast of the same name having been released since I decided on it. This has been a while in the making, trying to host an event similar to Death Cafe but at the weekend and in a much more relaxed style. It was at my house and all I asked was that attendees supplied the cake and I would supply the tea. I trialled this with some close friends and we played the Death Deck game that I have mentioned before. I think it was an absolute success and I hope those who came would agree, we laughed and had some excellent discussions about various aspects of death. I learnt some very insightful things about my friends too!

 

Improvising necessary when you only get two of some of your letters with your lightbox

Amazing cakes including the gravestones made by my friend Alison!

Yesterday was our monthly Death Cafe at The Sweet Rose Cakery in Upminster. I expected the numbers to be low due to the weather and the time of the year, however we also had the added factor of half the town being closed for gas works and all the buses on divert! All of that aside, we had a small but very cheery group of people get together and although we certainly went off on far more tangents than normal we had some interesting topics. Rather poignantly, the topic of death anxiety came up and I thought it was something to discuss further.

We talked about death anxiety, originally in relation to our own worrying about loved ones and imagining their deaths when we rationally know that’s not what has happened. I know I am guilty of this myself, my other half goes to work on a motorbike every day and if he hasn’t text me by midday I do start to get quite panicky that something has happened. My Mum made a very good point that this is a symptom of having a mobile phone, when she and Dad were first together they didn’t have them and he went to work with most days no contact until he came home. I guess the constant contact we have with people can be problematic in many ways but this is a big one.

In general, those that attended who were younger then went on to a conversation about Facebook and social media. It was clear that we are of a generation where communication comes very easy when we want it, but it comes with many disadvantages too. We might panic when we think we are being ignored, we could be the victim of trolls, and we worry about what has happened when communication doesn’t happen. We discussed worrying about our own deaths, our loved ones deaths and general anxiety around this. I can’t comment for everyone but I know that I have worried, even before I had my job it is important to note, on numerous occasions about death. I’m prone to worrying about my own death if I feel unwell, or at least it does cross my mind. Part of my reasoning for doing and liking my job is it’s almost like an immersion therapy. Surround yourself with something you’re naturally scared of and it becomes familiar and less scary.

A delightful bitmoji image I found once!

Something that also came from the (probably soon to be renamed) Death In The Afternoon was the comment from one friend that ‘Well, Death is just so final’. We all laughed in the obvious nature of this, but actually I think that’s the main reason for the anxiety around it. There’s no going back. There’s often nothing that can be done. It’s understandable why it’s scary and causes anxiety because it removes any control we have, and I think most of us do like to have control. Maybe by working in death I feel like I’m regaining some of that control.

Big day tomorrow and an interesting weekend coming up. I’m glad I could get this in today and hope you’re all having a good week so far!

MG x

New Year Burn Out

I won’t dwell on this for long, but I decided to check in with everyone to just say Happy New Year and I hope all is going well so far for 2019. Personally, not had the best start I could hope for but I’m feeling a lot better than I did on New Year’s Day evening luckily.

New Year’s Day had a wonderful sunset however!

I think a combination of festive pressures put upon me partly by other people but mainly myself, contributed towards a bit of a hopeless feeling. I experienced a massive bout of insomnia which affected my work, which mutated into a fear of not sleeping, that then became the reason why I wasn’t sleeping. I had a couple of major things in my life go awry towards the end of last year that I thought I could cope with. It just turns out that while I was coping with the big stuff, I was not coping with a lot of the smaller things like managing a social diary or, very simply, keeping on top of my washing (having clean clothes was a big worry for me at 3am for some strange reason).

I stumbled across this Moomin cartoon which made me smile, too often I am like Pimple (but not about jam)

Sometimes the pressures and strains of life can get too much. I think this is why things like ‘Self Care’ and ‘Mindfulness’ are so popular now. I worry that they are seen as trendy and just a bandwagon to be jumped on, but I never for one second think that. I honestly believe that taking time for yourself is almost more important than eating the right foods and doing exercise, or at least should be the priority. Mainly because if your mental state isn’t in the best place, nothing else will really work out.

Without getting too bogged down in non-mortuary related things, I can honestly say that due to not being at work there isn’t much else to say! I worked a few hours today, the opportunity came up and my manager asked if I would like to go in. I was pleased to be asked, I find going back after a bout of illness, especially poor mental health, incredibly daunting. I would probably end up back in a pattern of not sleeping and worrying. The fact I went in today and saw some colleagues, did some work and it all went fine, has relieved a huge pressure in my mind about tomorrow morning.

We can so easily burn ourselves out it’s unreal. However always remember we’re only human. We’re only flesh and blood and the things that make us who we are. Burning out, or not being able to cope, is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of. By talking about it openly, I help myself and I hope I help others who may be going through a similar situation.

MG x

Christmas Celebrations & Alastair the Gerbil

Christmas is a time that I absolutely adore, but I do know many people that utterly hate it. While I love this time of year, I completely understand that it can be a really hard time for people. I would like to start this seasonal post by asking anyone who is struggling over the festive period to reach out to their friends and family who I’m certain will be more than happy to help them, and if you don’t feel that you can do that then reach out to anyone, myself included, because I’m certain help can be found even in the darkest places.

As you may have seen, we had our Christmas meal last week which was brilliant and exchanged our Secret Santa gifts. My Santa obviously knows me very well with my Harry Potter, mustard colour, fur and fox themed gifts. They’re perfect! The food and evening was brilliant and just the best time.

Secret Santa knew me very well….

I was lucky enough to have Thursday and Friday before Christmas off, big plans turned into quieter plans which was no bad thing and it meant I had time to catch up on sleep and various pre-Christmas tasks I needed to do but in my own time. I was so tired last week that I made some stupid mistakes at work I still feel terrible about. I’ve gradually learnt that I cannot do my job well if I’m tired or compromised otherwise in any kind of way so will try to ensure I don’t feel like this at work, at least try to prevent it as much as possible.

Yesterday evening I sat with my poorly little gerbil Alastair who died tucked up in a fold in my jumper where I was trying to keep him warm. He’d been looking unwell for a few days and I think I knew this was coming soon. I wanted to mention this, not only to show that I am not immune to death and I had a good cry when I realised he had died but also that pets are one way in which we can experience death in our everyday lives. Especially with tiny animals, they’re not in our lives for long but this teaches us to appreciate the time we do have and understand that death is a normal part of life.

Poor little Alastair had a good life, grew old and died peacefully.

The last week I reached the milestone of 70 brains! I had aimed to do 100 in my first year as a trainee APT but I think 30 in the next 9 days is a tad unreasonable even if it is a busy time of year!! For those who don’t know I’ve kept a count since I started of how many brains I have removed. This is not necessarily a count of how many eviscerations I have done, either due to the fact we don’t always remove the brain or that I may have done a brain for someone else who has opened the abdomen. I think a post about when we do and when we don’t remove the brain might be interesting for the future so let me know if that’s something you would definitely like to read about.

70 brains removed! My little post it stuck to the wall next to my desk.

Lastly, no responses to what Mystery Tool Number 3 was so I’ll assume you all knew and it was obvious! They are bowel scissors! The curved tip of the lower blade is to ensure the edges don’t get caught when cutting through the bowel and open it exposing the mucosal surface inside. The reason why we do this sometimes is to show the pathologist this surface and therefore any inflammation or indications of illness or disease that might be there. The bowel could be examined for diverticulitis, colitis or other diseases in this way and those named are the ones I have seen so far. The bowel is opened, washed thoroughly of it’s contents and laid out for the pathologist to examine. I’m hoping once I’ve done this a few times I am able to imitate my boss who can do this with no mess and display it perfectly laid out for examination.

Mystery Tool Number 3 Revealed! Bowel Scissors!

I will leave you all with a final reminder that this is a tough time of year and to look out for those who need any extra help or assistance in the coming weeks. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all, I wish you all a peaceful and enjoyable time however you decide to spend it. Also I spare a thought for those who work over Christmas, particularly those who keep the NHS running 24 hours no matter what day of the year.

MG x

Copenhagen Medical Museum

Copenhagen was the perfect break for November. Laura B and I had planned it for a few months, we reacted to the intense heatwave of the summer by booking a trip to somewhere that would definitely be cold. I spent many a hot summers day dreaming of blankets, scarves and thick socks. I’m a Winter person as well as a cat person it would seem.

Always perfectly happy in the cold!

One thing I had discovered upon researching the sights of the city was that there was an ‘anatomy’ museum or medical museum. I knew nothing about it apart from a glance at the website to find out where exactly it was, because I had to visit no matter what. As it turns out, the medical museum is nestled in a grand looking building next to the more popular Design Museum. The door as you approach is closed, sensible in the climate, but automatically opens as you approach which is not something you expect from a very tall, old looking wooden door. Once inside, the museum is made of wooden floors and steps, the different areas of the museum separated by split levels and short flights of stairs.

I try not to make a habit of taking photographs in toilets…. but this arty display of sharps bins caught my eye while using the facilities!

Fortunately, the people of Copenhagen do generally have everything in Danish or English so we were given an English leaflet guide to take around with us. I had tried my hand at Duolingo before we went but I was hardly fluent. The museums we went to all asked that we left our coats and bags in either a locker or at a cloakroom, something which felt like a very sensible idea and a good way to feel the benefit of your coat upon leaving!

Cool display of pacemaker devices

The first room we entered was a history of psychiatric care and the different approaches. Most notable of this room was the display of a large lockable box with a bed inside which looked mostly terrifying, and the different therapies shown such as electric shock therapy and a really disturbing box of props used for children’s therapy including a creepy mask.

Next we found ourselves in a room with a large glass table which turned out to be a game. After a good ten minutes of trying to Google Translate the Danish, I turned around to find the English version behind me. It was a game of luck, selecting body parts at random each turn via a spinner in the centre of the table. A bit like Anatomical Twister but each body part came with its own disease or trait that added or subtracted years from your life. We both started off at 80, I was taken years for having some mild complaints and died at 76. Laura B was given a great head start and added many years to get life by being a widow! I can’t remember at what age she died but it was at least twenty years on me. I really liked the concept and playing this game, and once we had finished the guide from the front desk came to find us to tell us a tour in English was starting soon if we would like to join. Of course we obliged!

The back wall of the teaching auditorium

The tour took us through the remaining rooms, starting of looking at some early surgical procedures such as trepanning and amputation. We then moved onto the early thoughts of the four humours of the body and how this developed through time to what we know today. This was very interesting, and included a look at the auditorium that was used for early anatomy and surgical demonstrations and lectures, and also a discussion of how the concept of miasma formed and was then forgotten. This is the belief that infections and diseases were carried in the air, which later changed once we understood infection control a lot better!

Dry specimens displaying various pathologies

The final room of our tour took us into a large area packed full of specimen jars like those I’m used to seeing in the Gordon Museum or at Barts Pathology Museum in London. The first cabinet we looked at was packed full of pre-natal and full term babies with various defects and deformities. It turns out this is a collection formed to better understand these problems and find ways of preventing them. The second and third cabinets were full of other specimens showing various pathologies both in dry and wet specimens which was really interesting. I didn’t ask at the time but I think this was a fraction of the teaching collection from the hospital.

Some wet specimens and also the child with Rickets in the lower left corner

One thing I noticed while there was that there were no issues with taking any photographs in this museum. I know from experience of those in London you are not allowed to take photographs, particularly close up of specimens and I would never wish to because I feel it inappropriate especially in the case of babies. I asked our guide Rasmus after our tour had finished if there were any particular laws around display in Denmark, he said there were no laws as such but there were guidelines which allowed display of specimens over 70 years old and there were no issues with photography. He also commented that they had prepared for controversy when the museum opened in regards to the displays but so far none had been received! It was very interesting to see this difference in attitude here and how they chose to display items.

I loved this display but in hindsight I can’t remember exactly what it was!

One final thing, there was a skeleton of a child displaying the effects of a severe vitamin D deficiency. We in the UK know this as Rickets, however in Denmark it was known as the English Disease! Rasmus said he did not know exactly why, however there was a tendency in the early medicine stages of naming illnesses after nations you did not like. As we found out on our boat tour the day before, the English stole the Danish navy at one point so I can see the justification here.

I hope this was interesting, and has tempted you to visit the museum if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen! Link for the museum is here.

MG x

Sweet Rose Cottage

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a fairly frustrating week all round. I caught the man flu, which turned out to be close to actual flu in some ways and still has me feeling terrible. On top of that, add some insomnia, anxiety and general joint pain, I think feel close to the classic ‘death warmed up’. She writes during a sneezing fit on the bus.

Wednesday Addams & Antigone Funn inspired generic tired mortuary worker look.

I was in for two days this week and I’m only in work for one next week. I’m then in for the rest of the year, and I’m starting to do some on call type work. In the last two days that went fast, I did some more nurses training in the big auditorium style training room. I get to feel important and stand on a stage with the presentation projected either side of me. For those that have known me a long time, bet you never thought this nervous wreck would stand there confidently and do that!

A selection of stills from the Just Five Minutes More video by Michelle Lancaster at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust

At the start of the training we play a video made by another NHS trust which demonstrates as well as possible our roles as APTs. It perfectly describes the care we have for our patients and our characters, particularly the ‘cheerful disposition’ we all possess. The link to the video on YouTube is here, Michelle Lancaster who made it and stars in it is someone I have a lot of admiration for and had the pleasure to meet at conference two years in a row, she is a really lovely human being.

There is another line in the video that I’d like to discuss where Michelle mentions the use of the term ‘rose cottage’, describing the phrase as sweet. This hit home upon hearing it yesterday because it sounded so much like the Sweet Rose Cakery where we host our Death Cafe each month, how appropriate and coincidental we found a location named that!

Laura T at the Sweet Rose Cakery

I should explain, the term rose cottage is used by hospital staff to describe either the mortuary, or has further extended to mean a death on the ward either in full form or shortened. The porters use it to ask where the death is, I hear them using our phone to call the ward and ask ‘Do you have a rose cottage?’ or more often it is ‘Do you have a rosie?’. It’s a sweet term indeed, not necessarily one I agree with because I’m fairly certain it’s born of avoiding talking about death, but it’s a tradition that has existed for a long time and I’m sure will continue. I believe other hospitals have other terms they might use, but the Rose Cottage has firmly stuck at ours. Although I believe you can encounter staff who have still yet to hear it and then assume you are asking after a patient called Rose Cottage which would be unfortunate if there was someone with that name!

Have a watch of the video and let me know what you think! Also, as promised I am working on a post about tools starting with the handy device below. Anyone want to take a guess what it’s used for? Mortuary workers past and present need not comment! If you’re Hospital has another term used to mean a death please get in touch also. Have a great weekend everyone.

Mystery tool… what could it be? It’s quite easy (I think!)

MG x

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