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

Tools, Organ Blocks & Getting in the Hallowe’en Spirit

Noticeably it’s been getting busier in the mortuary, just like it’s been getting darker and colder in the evenings. We’ve not been short of work at all, while also trying to streamline some processes and make ourselves more efficient. Our manager would like us to get into the habit of working in certain ways that make more sense, for example the tools we need to be in the right places and the right time rather than hunting around for them. I’m all for this, as it makes a lot of sense to not only ensure our work flows a lot better but also make our lives easier! Might take some getting used to though, as I’ve really just got my head around how things are now and in some ways I have to change some habits even if newly formed ones! We also had a delivery of new tools with some exciting additions for me to try when I eviscerate and reconstruct.

You might think the tools we have are quite basic but there’s a lot of different ways to eviscerate. For example, you might like a short handled scalpel while someone else might prefer a long handle to hold. Then there’s different blade types and shapes for the end of that scalpel, there’s pointier ones, curved ones and it really depends on preference. Although I have been told to try them all because you never know when you might need to use a different type, for example if stocks run out of the one you like or you go to work at a different mortuary and they don’t have that one. The rest of the tools are much the same; varying in shape, size and (for want of a better term) ‘pointiness’.

Even down to the needles we use to stitch, they are much bigger than the sewing needle you might use in crafts but they too come in different shapes. At our mortuary we tend to use either an ‘s’ shape one like I prefer because it sits nicely in my hand, or one with a flat part and then a deep bend in it. If people are interested I can do further posts on the tools as I familiarise myself with them! I might well do this anyway as I find if I talk about them I learn more myself.

I’ve had a few chances to have a go at eviscerating over the last few weeks and I’ve got a lot better at the parts I struggled with before. I’ve been trying to get my head around removing the organs in three blocks, the first block is easy and fine but separating the second and third is still flummoxing me a bit. Again, would people like to know more about these blocks and how they are examined? Let me know! I would, of course, warn you if I was to start going into detail about things like that.

Outside of work, I had a quiet weekend mostly. Saturday I went to the local museum as they were having a talk on vampires which looked interesting. I couldn’t help noticing that I was the youngest person in the room by about 30 years, but it was enjoyable and amusing in places. It was the first time I had been to the Havering Museum and it’s small but worth a visit if you’re from around this area. After the talk I went to work for a couple of hours to catch up on booking people in. When it’s busy it makes sense to do this so we don’t have lots to do on Monday on top of our other work. Other than that I spent the weekend watching the new Sabrina series on Netflix and a lot of movies. It was a very restful couple of days!

Tuesday 6th November at 7pm!

Upcoming next week is the Upminster Death Cafe which is looking to be very exciting. If you have never been to a Death Cafe before then why not pop along if you can and see what it’s all about? If you’re not local to Upminster then there is certain to be one near you! Try looking at the website and search by postcode. If you think you would like to come or would like to know more, please message or email me and I’m happy to discuss your questions or concerns.

Only a few things I love more than a Snapchat filter and one of them is Hallowe’en

Wednesday is Halloween and I’m looking forward to it a lot! I’ve always loved Halloween, and I have had my decorations up since the start of the month. We get a few neighbourhood kids knock for sweets and then I like to watch a scary movie or two.

That’s it from me at the moment, but if you have any questions or would like to hear more on any of the things I’ve discussed then let me know.

MG x

AAPT Annual Conference London 2018

It’s a most excellent start to any morning when you make a cup of tea only to realise that the milk’s gone off. However I wouldn’t let that ruin or darken my day for I was off early to the AAPT 14th annual conference and this year I had some pretty awesome reasons to be excited.

Cup of tea attempt #2

I arrived at the Holiday Inn Regent’s Park to a crowd of people outside. Some people I recognised, fewer I actually knew and a lot more I had no idea who they were. I’ve been lucky to attend a few AAPT events before including this conference last year, it almost feels like I have a tick-list of people to check off each time to speak to, and this year I got a whole load of new ticks. One thing I will say, the people of the AAPT are always so very friendly and just, well, normal people. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like I fit with a job I’ve had, good news really when I’m pretty certain I’ve got my dream career.

Got a little beefeater bear to go with my Cardiff dragon

When I got there I saw an open door towards the registration desks so I rushed in to get my lanyard and bag of goodies. A little pre-emptive as I was immediately told they weren’t open yet and to go stand outside! Oops! Outside I stood nervously catching people’s eyes and trying to figure out who was an APT and who was a bog standard hotel patron. The doors opened not long after and I got registered, then walked through to the conference room to grab a seat and dump my coat. Then it was time to grab a cup of tea and settle on in for the morning session.

Trusty notebook bought by Laura D and the conference programme

There was an array of talks in the morning and the afternoon of a very high calibre. I particularly enjoyed a presentation by a member of the air ambulance crew who described East London as being ‘well, yes, a bit stabby’ while discussing the kind of call outs he went to. I’ve seen the kinds of procedures they use on people who have arrived at the mortuary but I’ve never been sure exactly how they are carried out or why, now I know! In the afternoon session there was also a presentation by a Sergeant from the Metropolitan Marine Police who look after the river along with other areas, for example I never knew they did high areas like rooftops too! Her presentation was a brilliant and informative one, largely explaining what happens to people if they end up in the river and how they are found. Her presentation ended on discussing the SS Princess Alice disaster where a passenger paddle steamer was struck and sank in the Thames in 1865. A larger part of my notes from this section includes a direct quote of a description of the water at Woolwich where it sank being ‘fast flowing poo soup’.

Thought you might enjoy my little sketch titled ‘how people float’ drawn from an impression the speaker did on stage, fish was not in demonstration.

It was a fabulous day and I got to meet some wonderful people. Right towards the end I found out that I was going to receive a certificate for my CPD (continual professional development) achievement over the last year with others, which I then spent the last hour worrying about going up the front. Typical of me! The AGM (annual general meeting) after the main conference also had the very exciting announcement that I have been appointed the Student Representative on the Council for the AAPT. This mean some hard work but I’m so looking forward to working with the Council going forward. I guess this is also a good time to announce that, all things going to plan, I will be starting my full training course in February 2019. It’s going to be a very exciting time coming up!

CPD certificate and my mugshot on the council listing!

Sadly I didn’t get to attend the evening event, I had to get home early but I was also a little grateful for other commitments. When your last talk of the day is about boat disasters and pulling bodies out of the Thames, a not very confident swimmer like me would be a little anxious about a party on a riverboat!!

I’d like to take an opportunity to thank the hard working people of the AAPT who put together and awesome conference again this year. I loved every minute and I am very much looking forward to the next one in Edinburgh in 2019!

MG x

MG Reflects on BlogConLDN

It’s a sunny day in East London, and the Internet blogging masses descended upon the CEME centre in Rainham for BlogConLDN. I found this event myself through Eventbrite when searching for things to do while my fiancé was away that were in the local area. It seemed ridiculously coincidental that a blogging convention would be on, five minutes down the road and I would have no other plans.

I was skeptical at first, my brain assumes that a blogging convention would be full of fashion and beauty bloggers who would look slightly down on a death blogger turning up and masquerading as one of their kind. I’m not the kind of person to just turn up and see; so I did contact the organiser Scarlett beforehand just to make sure I would even be welcome!

Turns out, it was a pretty cool event. The CEME centre (that my phone keep autocorrecting to Cemetery, or course) is a nice venue for an event like this. Within minutes of turning up and noticing there was an awful lot of very fashionable people, I was approached by a lovely book blogger who asked if there was a map or programme of events. Alas, there wasn’t but we did head to get a complimentary glass of prosecco and have a little snoop around the stands. Not long after this a friend of hers arrived, a fellow book and also lifestyle/travel blogger who now blogs full time. I’m in awe of these people who are able to do this. In a world of others who blog about travel, health and beauty alongside the main bulk of fashion bloggers it must be so hard to get somewhere but these people have the confidence and the ability to really make a go of it. They headed off to a talk about Instagram, and we parted company but it was great to meet them.

I was asked a few times what I blogged about. I didn’t receive a single negative response which was surprising but also so very lovely. Many jumped to the fact my blog helps people and informs, which really put it all into perspective for me. The most perspective I got from today however, was a session I attended called Showing Up Online Without Anxiety hosted by an anxiety coach called Sam from A Happy Mind. I knew all along I wanted to attend this session from first seeing it advertised, and I’m so glad I did.

Sam talked everyone in the room individually through why we do what we do, who we do it for and how we know we are the right person for it. Even just having these pointed out to me and reflecting on this was valuable to my mind. It even justified why I had turned up to the event. I’m very thankful for this! She also came up with a tag line for me ‘Death Can Be Divine‘ which I adore!

Right now I’m sat in my garden, with my cats and having a cup of tea reflecting on it all and I can honestly say I do what I do to inform and educate. I do it because I want to reach out to those who need my help, whether that be understanding a process around death and dying or gaining some sympathy from someone who knows exactly what they are going through. This is is the purpose of my blog, and now the purpose of the Death Cafe too. My self printed ego mug seems ever so slightly less egotistic in reflection because I’m proud of doing what I do and how I got here. I deserve this mug just a little bit. I also got some inspiration to look a bit more into what I do with photos on here but that’s for another time!

Big thank you to those that organised, hosted, attended and chatted to me at BlogConLDN today. I had a blast even if I was an unstylish death blogger amongst many cool and trendy people.

MG x

I Just Really Like Talking About Death

Has it been the longest week or what? Writes the person who has had nothing but short weeks forever and has a five day week next week. Please feel just the tiniest bit sorry for me, or maybe that’s too much to ask!

It possibly felt like a long week because I’ve been non stop. I’ve also had a massive dip in my confidence due to not being all that great at evisceration this week. I felt like I lost all the skills I had mastered in the past few months but I’m certain it’s just a blip and I’ll be back soon. I had to get more help than I’ve needed in a while, and they weren’t really difficult cases.

One lovely thing that happened however, was the chance to show around a student nurse for a morning. It’s times like that when I realise that I bloody love my job and I love talking about it nearly as much. We get people approach the mortuary on a fairly regular basis asking if they can come visit, for some people this can just be a curiosity around what we do deep down in the basement. However for others they visit as part of their studies or work placements so we get a few students coming down. I think the first things people notice are that the mortuary is bright and clean, most people imagine a dark, dingy place with dubious smells and stains. I believe they also notice how friendly we are as a team! Each person has their own quirks but each of us is really cheery and friendly.

It was great to have someone to show what we do to, we each took some time with her to explain what we were doing which was nice and she asked some great questions. What I thought was very good was the fact she really just wanted to know what happened to the patients after they left her care. She thought it odd that people just were taken off to this place and no one really understood what happens after they last see them. I can see why this is the case, as people don’t like to think about what happens once you die, but I also think this is so unhealthy and people should know what happens. I can’t help but think that with that knowledge there would be far less fear from people around death itself.

With my colleague we showed her the booking in process, the cleaning of patients who have ‘purged’ (have fluid coming from the nose and mouth) and the releasing of patients to funeral directors. At the end of her time with us I gave her a quick tour of the post-mortem room (not in use at the time), the isolation room used for ‘high risk’ post-mortems and the other little rooms that come off of these. Doing this made me think of how much I have learnt in my eight months at the mortuary and how well I was able to answer her questions.

Relating to how much I like talking about my work, the next Death Cafe has been confirmed! On June 19th at the Sweet Rose Cakery in Upminster our second event will be on from 7-9pm. I’m excited to use this space as we have it all to ourselves, plus there’s wine and cake available. I think I’ll be very much a home there! More information can be found on our page here. If you would like to come please get in touch and let me know, or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Wish you all a lovely weekend! I am attending the very exciting BlogConLDN tomorrow to learn how to make this blog better, keep your eyes peeled for any upcoming changes.

MG x

Teamwork, Bad Smells & a Brain Count Update!

Happy Friday to you all! I would like to start with the fact I have been very lucky to have another short week, and with the impending bank holiday I get another next week. It’s been nice to rest and reflect after the recent busy weeks and have some time to plan what’s going to happen going forward!

The mortuary has been busy with lots of different things happening. I think I’m starting to get the hang on the small stuff now, I definitely find myself asking less questions about the basics or in response to queries from other people. We’ve had a lot of post-mortem work happening which has meant I’ve been able to see a lot more and learn lots which is great. There was one day this week where the whole team (minus my colleague on maternity leave!) were in the post-mortem room working on people, chatting and showing each other what we had found. It was a really great time and it’s a shame it can’t always be like that but other activities often take place all at the same time limiting who can do what.

There has been an awful smell in the corridor outside the mortuary that the funeral directors and people visiting use when they come in. Everyone seems to assume it’s us… but our mortuary smells lovely! It’s funny how if there’s ever a bad smell in the hospital people assume it must be us. In fact, usually it’s the drains or the kitchens and emit really quite terrible smells sometimes too. Although, it says a lot that I don’t really notice them anymore and I don’t think the corridor smells that bad at all really.

Looking forward there’s some exciting stuff coming up. Plans are already taking shape for the next Death Cafe, although we are thinking about changing venue after a chat about the noise levels and the space at the last one. I’ve submitted my review of the last one claiming it an absolute success so I can’t see why the next one can’t be bigger and better!

Next weekend is the BlogConLDN which I am very intrigued to be attending. I think it’s mostly aimed at lifestyle or fashion and beauty bloggers but I can’t see why I shouldn’t be able to get something out of the day. If anything, there’s a complimentary yoga class which I will take full advantage of! My other half persuaded me to get some business cards printed with my blog url on them so I can hand them out to anyone who’s interested. I’ve double sided them with Death Cafe info too incase anyone asks me about that. So now I feel like a real ego monster and will probably never give them to anyone! Like the true geek that I am, when the printing company offered to print a mug with Mortuary Gem and my blog logo I couldn’t resist. That mug is officially known as the ‘Ego Mug’ because I feel ridiculous having even asked for it to be made!

Lastly, Brain Update! I made it to 25 brains removed, which I think was my first goal that I set myself. Next goal is 50. So far I’ve think it’s fair to say I’ve mastered the basics of evisceration and only struggle with some aspects now if they are complex or unusual. Since cutting myself with the PM40 I’ve become very aware of my hand placement and how to cut away from my fingers safely. I’ll get back to discussing topics from work next week hopefully and some more interesting things I’ve seen.

Thank you for reading, as always please let me know if you have any questions or comments and enjoy your weekend! I plan to spend lots of time in the hammock with a book (weather allowing of course!).

MG x

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