Three Mystery Tools, Two Decomp People & a Council Meeting in the City

I’ve been living in a bit of a bubble the last week or so. I feel utterly exhausted constantly the reason for which I’m not sure if it is because I’m genuinely tired, the b12 tablets are not working or, self-diagnosed, I have some degree of Seasonal Affected Disorder. Just all round I have no energy for much at all, which is proving rather challenging!

Busy doesn’t even really cover it. We are the busiest we have been for a long time. I’m regularly feeling my Fitbit buzz to tell me I’ve hit 10,000 steps well before my working day has ended. Half of that is running lengths of the mortuary at the other hospital to either answer the phone or the doorbell which can be at either end. I try not to miss people so it often involves sprinting.

On Tuesday we had two ‘decomps’ to post-mortem, and myself with the other trainee were tasked with completing them. One was not as bad as the other, by not as bad I mean not as decomposed. There tends to be stages which range from just what seems to be a smell and a change in skin colour, to full on massive changes in the body. I won’t go into masses of detail as always, but I will say that I am rather proud of us coping with the smells that we encountered, plus we received some lovely comments from the pathologist who completed the post-mortem (comments regarding the work, not the bad smells). I do feel I will remember for a long time trying to remove a brain which is effectively mush. It really reminded me of an episode of izombie, you will know what I am talking about if you have ever watched that programme and I highly recommend you do if you haven’t.

Looking fabulous as always in a Tyvek suit and wellington boots. The end outfit is this plus an apron, sleeve protectors, gloves and a face mask.

On Wednesday, I attended a council meeting with the AAPT. It was the first real action I’ve had as Student Representative and I really had a great time. It was fabulous to meet everyone and put faces to names, plus everyone is just really nice and friendly which is only to be expected as a profession known to have a cheery disposition! Lots of things were discussed, and actually it was fantastic to hear about the latest goings on plus particular concerns with our industry. I feel like I have a thirst for knowledge and involvement in these things and I am so lucky to have the opportunity to be a part of the council. I also notably got to meet the organiser of the training course I will be beginning in February and he was really encouraging about working together going forward. I’m super lucky to have the support from my manager and trust in undertaking this venture and I hope this start means I can be involved with the AAPT for a long time.

Yesterday we had no pathologist available so could not do any post mortems, therefore myself and the other trainee cleaned nearly every door and wall in the mortuary in the morning, of which there are loads! Armed with a bucket of cleaning solution and cloths we went round scrubbing down all the surfaces we could. One thing I try to always tell people when they enquire about pursuing a career like mine is that a large part of this job is cleaning. I can’t lie, I’m not the biggest fan of cleaning but I do find that with some music, and/or a colleague to talk to, it’s actually quite a fun part of the job in a weird way.

My manager won an award this week! Congratulations!

This week we had the fabulous news that our manager had won an award he was nominated for in the category of Care and Compassion. We are so proud as a team of him winning this award and also how we work together to provide the care we do. This is largely in relation to the training we provide to nurses and others but also the hard work put in to provide the best care we can. Winning awards like this is great because it highlights the work done in the mortuary that people may not necessarily be aware of or want to think about.

Mystery Tool Number 3- what could they be for?

Today we have our Christmas meal out in the evening which I am looking forward to, and we are also exchanging our Secret Santa gifts. I’ll be sure to let you know what I get. For now, I’ll leave you with Mystery Tool Number 3!! Yes, they are scissors, but why do they have that rounded end and what are they used for? Current or past mortuary workers need not reply thank you! I hope you are all enjoying the festive season and have a good weekend.

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

Body Farms- Yep or Nope?

Would you like to see a Body Farm in the UK? It’s a simple question but one that seems to provoke either a very positive response or a rather negative one. It would seem a lot of people either don’t know what that means or have only a small idea what it would mean if one did exist. Add to that the feelings of disgust at human bodies being left outside to decompose, plus confusion about the legality or morality of such a place existing, it’s not such a simple question at all.

In fact, as I learnt at the weekend, there is no real good reason as to why a Body Farm, or Human Taphonomic Facility, does not exist as yet in the UK. Yesterday I attended my final event of the London Month of the Dead at Brompton Cemetery, a talk titled ‘The Case for a Body Farm in the UK’ presented by Dr. Anna Williams. This talk was a comprehensive one, and the most interesting of those I have attended recently by far.

I guess I should explain what a ‘Body Farm’ or ‘Human Taphonomic Facility’ actually is. In other countries around the world, most prominently in the US, there are insitutions like these. The basic principle is very straightforward and research is conducted into human body decompostion by placing donor bodies in certain situations or conditions and monitoring them for periods of time. The idea behind this being to get a better understanding of not only how bodies decompose but also being able to better interpret decomposed remains. The potential of the research being conducted is fairly endless in the amount of variables that could be examined. The ability to explore different environmental conditions alone is so vast I can’t imagine you could stop thinking of different ideas, let alone when you then combine these possiblities with the huge range of different physical and chemical aspects of the body too either due to lifestyle or other impacting factors.

I would like to specifically mention one of Anna’s comments during the talk that I found fascinating. She explained how it would be interesting to compare the decomposition of a vegetarian versus a vegan and then also versus those of a meat-eater, on the assumption that the different bacteria in the gut due to their diets would have a different affect and alter the decomposition presented! Something seemingly so obvious but I would never have thought of that before. That alone is just one example of how different aspects of lifestyle can affect decomposition.

Personally I would encourage people as a whole to read into this subject matter further if they are interested. As Anna stated, there is no legal reason why such a facility does not exist yet in the UK. In fact the impression she has of the situation is that a lot of people would like to make one, but are waiting for someone else to be the first person to take the leap into the unknown. Most people I speak to are all for this to happen, and the kind of people who attend talks are those who are wanting to learn more because they like the idea it would seem. It would definitely be more interesting to hear from people who have reservations or are completely against this happening.

There is a lot of information online about the existing facilities and also the UK desire to have one. Anna has put together a survey for people to fill out and have an opportunity to have their say which I encourage you fill out. The Twitter handle for this movement is @HTF4UK and there is a blog here. I genuinely want to help this cause and get poeple talking about it. Dr Anna Williams is also on Twitter @bonegella. Huge thank you to Anna for sparking this idea in my head and for a brilliant talk! I have pinned my badge to my coat and willing people to discuss this with me from here on in.

There’s a lack of photos this post so here’s a lovely lion from Brompton Cemetery to make up for it

Apologies for the short post this week and the general lack of posts in the last week or so. Rocks (my cat) is unwell again which has been awful, between that and a busy work week, going into the city for the weekend, plus some other crazy stuff happening I’ve not really had a chance to catch up on much. The next month or so is not promising to calm down although I do have a couple of trips planned where I should be able to chill out and take a step back from the crazy. Keep your eyes peeled for updates but you can also check out my Twitter or Instagram @mortuarygem if you want to see what’s happening. As always, get in touch if you have any questions or comments.

MG x

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