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

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.

https://www.haveringmuseum.org.uk

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

Death Cafe, The London Podcast Festival & a Very Important Question

The fourth Upminster Death Café, which is our fifth that we have hosted and was somehow, utterly unintentionally, an all-female attended event, which I think definitely influenced the mood of the evening. By this I mean that I feel it allowed the people there to open up a bit more about some of their personal experiences and be totally honest about some things they might not have wanted to in front of any male attendees. Of course I could be totally incorrect about this and we could well have had exactly the same experience with men in the room! I also would like to just say that it does not mean that men are unwelcome from now on and it was just a funny occurrence, everyone is welcome of course.

Not sponsored by Coca-Cola, unless they would like to…

I was really pleased that we hosted 15 people this time around (in that I include myself, Rachel and the lovely ladies of the Sweet Rose Cakery because we all get involved) and to have people bring with them some topics they wanted to discuss. We had a great range of conversation and went off on a few tangents as always, but the conversation did come back to death every time. We covered old age, how our parents or relatives reacted to bereavements, how to talk to people who are grieving, whether or not you have to have a funeral, and ‘death denial’ among many other things.

The atmosphere of the night was overall a very happy one and there was a lot of laughter with some sadder moments in between. For anyone curious, this is the general tone of the Death Café events that I have noticed, it’s very positive and often funny but people are safe to express other emotions and will be listened to. I think that by the fact people have opened up in this environment shows that people feel comfortable enough to do so. I will always totally understand if people are worried about what these events contain, but the only way I can help is by recommending you attend one if you are interested and find out.

The rest of the week has been quite eventful for me! At the weekend I attended the London Podcast festival and saw live my two favourite podcasts of them all- Griefcast by Cariad Lloyd and Wooden Overcoats written by David K. Barnes. I’ve banged on about them a lot on here before but if you’re interested give them a google or iTunes search.

Wooden Overcoats- a comedy about rival funeral directors on a fictional Channel Island

Griefcast- Cariad Lloyd interviews comedians about when they have experienced grief

This week I’ve been back and forth to our other hospital covering the afternoons, as well as there all day today to give some training sessions to staff members. As mentioned before, we give training to the nurses and other staff who do end of life care to ensure they are giving the patient the best start in death for when they come to the mortuary. As well as this we also train the portering staff on their work in the mortuary. We think it is important too that they get to know us friendly members of staff who they won’t be afraid to contact if they ever have a query or are unsure about something. This was my first time doing this training on my own and I think I did okay, although I introduced myself to be told ‘We know, we saw you on the Intranet!’. Apparently people know me, might explain some of the smiles and looks I get around the hospital, I thought I just looked weird!

A little while ago I saw on Twitter a company called Death Deck who were producing a new card game that caught my eye. Death Deck is a game to encourage people to have the difficult conversations about death with their loved ones, the cards having some questions which prompt these discussions. I was so excited I ordered as soon as it came out and it finally arrived yesterday, after some hefty customs charges. I’ve been speaking to them about it being available on the UK Amazon soon, but it’s available in the US now. Planning on busting it out at an event soon, really looking forward to playing it!

The Death Deck game

I’ll leave you today with Funny Things I’ve Heard on the Staff Bus- Part 1, my new mini feature. Well, let’s see if I hear anything else at any point for a Part 2! Three, I think junior doctors but I could be wrong, were sat behind me on the bus and were discussing healthy eating. One of them said that she had tried being vegetarian but would still eat fish, justifying this by saying ‘Well would you rather punch a fish or punch a cow?’. This is now a question I think I will be asking everyone I meet just to hear what they think. So, what would you rather punch, a salmon or an Aberdeen Angus?

MG x

Brains, Books, Bodies & More

Ahhhhh I have so much to tell you all! Be prepared for a complete update summary; possibly quite lengthy and I’m not sure where to begin, so here it goes! The latest Brain Count (the number of brains successfully removed by myself) is at a healthy 42. I’m well on my way to my aim of 50 and pretty chuffed I started counting as recommended by my manager many months ago! I think I’ve got quite good at doing this, and reconstructing the head afterwards. I am careful to not cut through the ear canal when opening the scalp as this can lead to leaking through the ear once reconstructed. I also have been using the other stitch I learnt to complete the head because the skin lies flatter and it cannot be seen so easily. Once the head is reconstructed, we wash the person’s hair with shampoo, comb it and then dry with a hairdryer, probably the closest I will ever come to being a hairdresser! This week I notably experienced my first post-mortem on an organ donor which was an interesting experience. It’s a challenge to work out what has been taken and what remains, a real test on your anatomy knowledge for certain. Plus, you all know organ donation is a huge thing for me that I support wholeheartedly (pun intended) and the news about the Opt-out system coming in for 2019 is absolutely amazing!

You may have seen recently that Laura D and I have now visited six of the Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries in London. We have plans to visit the seventh and final one soon, and I will provide a write up of Tower Hamlets individually as well as a full write up of all seven once complete. I’m really excited to share my thoughts on this and some tips if you ever plan on paying any of them a visit. Laura D thinks it would make a good BBC4-style documentary, and while I would love to make something like that one day I’m not so sure the general public would agree.

You may have also seen that in London in October is the Month of the Dead. There are a series of walks, talks and tours taking place throughout London and, as much as I would love to go to them all, not only do some of them clash but also I would not be able to afford food by the end of the month if I did. I completed, however, some stellar work putting together a spreadsheet of those I wanted to attend, filtered out the ones that had sold out and got it down to a final, affordable five. Maybe I will see some of you there, sadly I was too late for the ossuary tours that I really wanted to go on but let me know if you are planning on attending any or were lucky to get tickets for them!

Of late, my podcast consumption has increased but so has the rate of which I am devouring books. This week in particular, I finished The Graveyard Book by Nail Gaiman in less than three days (it’s that good!) and have begun Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death Revisited. The former I was recommended and leant by my Mum who knew I would love it and she wasn’t wrong! The latter I have wanted to read for some time, and expected a bit of a slog but in fact Mitford writes in an incredibly witty and laugh out loud in places kind of way that it’s thoroughly enjoyable. This also led me to read a bit online about the fascinating Mitford Sisters, if you’ve never heard of them I encourage you to do the same.

In addition to all of that and looking ahead still, I not only have my year anniversary of working at the mortuary on the 2nd October but I also have secured a place at the AAPT (Association of Anatomical Pathology Technology) annual conference on the 29th September which is being held in London this year. Once again I’m incredibly excited to hear the different talks, currently I’m most looking forward to a talk about the deaths that occur on the Thames. It will be great to see people from all over the country once again and some familiar faces from over the last year. September happens to be the month of the annual London Podcast Festival coincidentally and I’ve got tickets to see my two death-related favourites Griefcast and Wooden Overcoats live in show which I am very much excited about.

Coming back to the present, don’t forget that the Upminster Death Cafe for August is coming up on the 21st. Rachel and I are once again at The Sweet Rose Cakery to discuss all things death. If you have something you would like to talk about with other people relating to death or dying then please coming along! Or if you would just like to listen to others talk about death then you are very welcome also. More information in the link above.

I’ll leave you (probably quite grateful that I’m done) with a final thought. I don’t know if anyone has noticed but it has occurred to me that I never refer to those in our care as ‘bodies’. Or ‘corpses’. Or, even worse, ‘cadavers’. While I don’t think these are necessarily incorrect terms to use, I also don’t feel comfortable using them in our context of the hospital. I personally prefer to say ‘person’ or ‘patient’ and acknowledge they are still who they were. I’m not against using any terms you want in this sense, I just wouldn’t myself. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I’d be interested to find out if other people think the same or feel differently to me!

MG x

Working with Death, Talking about Death, Listening about Death, Thinking about Death

I found myself yesterday having surrounded myself in death. I realised that I not only went to work at the mortuary as usual but also helped present a talk about end of life care, showed around a student nurse interested in our work, came home and listened to the Griefcast podcast, watched Disney’s Coco with my other half and prepared some Death Cafe materials.

Myself with the lovely Cariad Lloyd who hosts Griefcast, the award winning podcast available for download.

Death is pretty much my life now, and I really couldn’t be happier about it!

This isn’t the post I had planned over the weekend at all. I have been working on what turned into an epically long discussion of the harms of fat shaming in our culture. Every time we have a patient come in who is bariatric, or obese, or heavy, or fat, or whatever term you wish to use, I consider the harm in our society this reflects. Not the fact they have lived that way, but the damage and hurt caused to them by the nature of our fat shaming society. Especially after the recent news articles about mortuaries not being able to store the number of these patients they are receiving. I might still post it once I’ve tidied it up and edited it a bit. Let me know if it’s something you would find interesting and I’ll have a think about it!

Like I say above, I’ve spent Monday so far mainly talking to other people about my work. I assisted with some nurses training which I hope to one day present myself. We teach the nurses for an hour as part of their End of Life training, explaining to them about what the mortuary does and why. The most important part is how their job impacts what we do and what they can do to help us! I think the most discussed point of the sessions I have attended so far is that we ask for all lines and tubes to be left in the patient if they die. The reason for thing being it prevents any leaks or blood from coming out. It’s horrible to see a new patient in the morning who is soaked in blood because an IV line was taken out and not properly bandaged.

The nurse we have with us this week is here for four days. She’s lovely and been asking all the right questions. I really do love showing people my work, I find I can talk about it for as long as they will listen. It’s days like this I remember how lucky I am and how much I appreciate the opportunity I have to do what I do and learn what I learn.

Death Cafe in Upminster on Tuesday 17th July at 7pm at the Sweet Rose Cakery

Hope you all have a great week. Don’t forget that Death Cafe takes place a week today and if you can attend you are so very welcome! There’s tea, coffee, cake, snacks, wine, beer and death chats- what more could you want from a Tuesday evening?

MG x

Griefcast: Let’s Talk About Grief!

There’s something about grief which makes it odd. Like death, it’s something we all experience at some point in our lives. Grief can be feared, it can be hated, and yet it is certainly expected. It’s something we often not only fear for ourselves, but also for others around us. We fear that we might not do the right thing, say what is needed or react appropriately in the given moment.

This is why I am so glad that I discovered Griefcast. I spoke about Griefcast briefly before in my podcast recommendations post, however Laura D and I saw an episode live recording at Barts Pathology Museum yesterday as part of the Funeral March events and I feel that I need to discuss why it is so important once more (at least).

Griefcast is hosted by comedian Cariad Lloyd who interviews a different fellow comedian each week regarding a bereavement or death in their life that has been important to them. It’s a frank, open and witty conversation that opens up all kinds of usually unspoken aspects of grief and breaks down the walls of taboo that have built up over time. Often it is a close relative who is discussed, but one of my favourite episodes was actually regarding the death of a dog. On Wednesday evening, Cariad was joined by journalist Dolly Alderton, comedian Ahir Shah and comedian Gráinne Maguire. The conversation this time was not focused upon particular deaths but an overall theme of death itself. Discussion included how you would want to die, what you might want your last words to be and what would happen at your funeral (including what song you would want played). It’s this kind of open discussion around death that normalises the death conversation and encourages more people to speak in this manner regarding it. It is exactly what Death Positivity encourages and I felt a real sense of that was what the audience represented in many ways. Here, to me, is the future of death culture where we no longer fear discussing it. Cariad, Dolly, Ahir & Gráinne

I won’t go into too much detail around what was discussed, you should (and will!) listen to the episode when it is released, however I would like to point out that something very important was highlighted. In respects to my opening sentences, it was discussed what could be done when others are experiencing grief or loss. In a very basic sense, we always feel that we need to solve the problem when someone is hurt and with grief over a death this is just not possible. What we can do, is support that person and face the fact with them that what they are going through is utterly awful but provide them with whatever they need.

In my line of work I meet a lot of grieving people. People react to grief in a number of, often unpredictable, ways and I really feared saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone unintentionally with my actions. Listening to Griefcast has really opened my eyes to people and their emotions in these times, it has allowed me to understand the process better. Sometimes the people being interviewed speak about going to see their loved one and their experiences, this has really helped me focus on what I can provide for the people I meet.

The lovely Cariad Lloyd and me after the show

If you haven’t listened to Griefcast already, then why not? I already recommended it ages ago! It’s available to download from all good podcast providers and I’m sure you will love it as much as I do. A huge thank you to all those involved in the Griefcast recording, and to you for reading as always. Keep your eyes peeled for an update this weekend about my busy week at work and how I’ve progressed (or how many brains I’ve now removed!).

MG x

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