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

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

London Month of the Dead Continues

At the weekend I had the absolute pleasure of spending most of my time within West Brompton cemetery amongst the graves and shielding from the rain on Sunday in the chapel. I’d inadvertently chosen two events to attend that interested me for different reasons but ended up being very close to my heart for the same reason. In some ways I’m glad I don’t look too much into events before I attend so I can have nice surprises like this. In other ways I felt very naive for not realising!

What a difference a day makes! Bright sunshine to dreary rain. Definitely made for a different atmosphere in the cemetery each day.

In the sunshine of Saturday, Laura D and I attended a double session of talks on the topic of the Crossbones Graveyard in Southwark. Long time readers might remember I wrote about this graveyard previously as it used to be a favourite lunchtime spot when I was working at Guy’s Hospital. In the mizzle of Sunday we went to a talk discussing the mass graves of Spitalfields, something I thought would be historical and interesting. However, it proved that both talks had a large, if not complete, basis in archaeology, and those that know me well will know I have an archaeological background.

Lives of London Past – Red Cross Way (Crossbones)

I won’t go into too much detail as always, because I want to encourage you to go to talks and I don’t want to ruin any future ones for anybody. That and it doesn’t seem fair to the speakers to tell you all about their work. However, the Crossbones talk was a brilliant contrast to Spitalfields and I will explain why.

On one side you have a relatively unknown graveyard that was saved from being destroyed entirely due to the work of the community and those who fought to save it. This largely came through the work of the second speaker of the day, John Constable, who wrote a book titled Southwark Mysteries and has a lot of his work based around the figure of the ‘Goose’ who would have worked and lived in the area of the time as a sex worker. Jelena Bekvalac spoke intitially on the collection of 148 individuals who were excavated from this site and are now looked after by her at the Museum of London in Barbican. Her detailed analysis of the demographic of the individuals and some of the insights their bones gave to their lives were really fascinating. It’s hugely important to note that this was only a partial excavation and there were a lot more than 148 people buried there, although many have probably been destroyed or removed by buildings on the site previously.

Some interesting decor by the sponsor Hendricks gin

On the other side, the Spitalfields excavation that Don Walker from Museum of London Archaeology presented was more complete. Thousands of skeletons were removed and the site now has the market on top, although you can visit today and still see remnants like the priory. The research project into this excavation was lucky enough to be funded well, so they were even able to carbon date a lot of the findings. This allows much more precise dating than normal, and meant that certain assumptions about the period of burial were not made and therefore something much more exciting happened in the research into why there were so many mass graves at that time.

It was odd but lovely hearing about archaeology again. About stratigraphy, matrices, site codes, and even a little mention of hypoplastic defects (I might have written a whole 15,000 word dissertation about those delightful little things! I also have volunteered for both the Museum of London, although at their Docklands Museum, and also for MOLA but at their archive in Eagle Wharf Road. It was great in addition to bump into two of the hosts of the Dead Kids Club podcast too and say hello to them! They’re three PhD students from UCL where I studied who discuss different archaeological stuff together in a great podcast. You can listen to it where you get your podcasts, for example here.

So the London Month of the Dead is about halfway through now and I’ve loved the events so far. I think most of the events are sold out but it’s worth checking out what’s available and get yourself to a talk if you can! We have a couple left and I will let you know about them when we’ve attended.

MG x

Where Is My Mind?

As I tweeted on the day, I really struggled to say anything in regards to Mental Health Day when so many others were posting poignant and significant things. I struggled not only because I didn’t know what to say but I also didn’t know how to say it. I almost had too much to say while also having nothing to say all at the same time.

The more I thought about this, the more I wanted to explain myself. I think I thought it such a hard topic to discuss, and then again I discuss the similarly hard topic of death all the time, so how can I find it so hard? Maybe because I’m not used to talking about it so regularly, but I’m not against the idea. I think also, death is something that happens to everyone and is universal whereas mental health can be an individual thing and you could not be affected by it negatively at all.

Like with death, I do believe as with so many others, that mental health issues should be discussed more. I think the problems with mental health are two fold in that we rarely see evidence of people having problems and the experiences of those with problems are so wide and varied it can range from mild to incredibly severe scenarios. In effect, this makes it invisible until it becomes visible, often in the most awful and damaging of ways.

My own experiences with mental health started quite young, I’d say mid-teens and I still have the faint symptoms now although I accept I could always end up back there or worse than my truly awful days. I mostly suffered with depression, with bouts of anxiety thrown in, which worsened when I moved out from my parents’ house and bought my own flat. I did take medication, the dosage increased until I was on the highest the doctor said I could have. Medication for me was an appropriate thing for three years but I knew when the time was right to come off. By time being right, I don’t mean I was better exactly but I was done with the changes the medication made to me and wanted to try to cope without it. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take it again if I was advised to, or be against someone taking it for the rest of their life if necessary.

Working where I do now, I see the horrible things that bad mental health can do to people. I see suicides far more regularly than I thought I would, and I see families completely unaware there was even a chance their relative felt that way in some cases. I couldn’t possibly explain why it happens, I honestly believe that the evil nature of this range of illnesses can make you believe the worst things and that can mean someone thinking that they would be better off dead. Like with any other illness, I believe in there being hope for these people, but the stigma around discussing mental health problems needs to be destroyed before more people come forward. Especially men.

When I first moved out, I did something I thought was crazier than the thoughts in my head and I started running. I say running, I mean poorly jogging around the park on my doorstep in the dawn light hoping not to bump into anyone else. I did the Couch to 5k programme, then moved on and did a 10k with a friend who asked me to do that as a helping hand at a tough time, followed by many other runs. Running became a time to be able to think about things logically, it was working better than therapy ever could, allowing me to order and catalogue my thoughts. My dream was to run the London Marathon because that is what kick started my crazy-self stepping out the door in the dim early hours in the hope of one day feeling like a super hero.

Proudly completed the Brighton Half Marathon in 2014 and the Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2015. I did the Shine Walking Marathon in 2016 but never have I attempted to run one before.

For six years I’ve applied for a ballot place in the London Marathon knowing I could never raise the thousands of pounds the charity places ask you to. Every year you can donate your entry fee if you are unsuccessful and in the post you receive a consolation ‘Sorry!’ magazine and a rather nice running jacket or jumper. This year I’d decided to not apply again next year, to appreciate a sixth jumper and accept defeat. That was until Monday when I saw the familiar red plastic wrapping of a marathon magazine, minus the puffiness of a jumper. I won’t say exactly what I said but it was the same swear word repeatedly for about ten minutes while laughing like a maniac. I’m not certain I can do this, but I’m going to give it a good go.

Uh oh…

I’ve spent the last four days trying to decide who to raise money for because although I can’t raise £2,000, I can try and raise a bit of cash for someone. Originally I was looking at the bereavement or hospice charities but something didn’t feel right, even though that would totally be on brand! Then I saw a little thing pop up from Mind. What with all the amazing posts this week, I also came home yesterday to have a discussion about mental health with my other half unrelated to any of this. Then we popped out and Where Is My Mind? by the Pixies came on the stereo in the car. That settled it really, and I applied to run for them when I got back. Please bear in mind I have to have a health check before I know I can definitely run but I’m fairly certain I’ll be okay!

Check out the work they do because it’s wonderful!

In all of this, I think I just want to reiterate that I think we have a long way to go when it comes to improving mental health but the more and more I see people talking about it on social media or in normal conversation I know we are moving in the right direction. I will put all the effort I can into helping this change.

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

Terrific Tuesday

What a fabulous start to the week I have had! Between being filmed for a documentary and Death Cafe, I can honestly say I had the best Tuesday for a long time. Those that know me well will know my hatred of that day of the week. Today was calmer but that was some relief, although it came with it’s own unusual events.

We had a student filmmaker come to the mortuary to get some footage for his masters degree work which is a documentary about death. I had little chance to discuss with him what exactly it is about but I could gather that he has interviewed some professionals in the death industry and will overlay their voices with the footage he shot in the mortuary. I don’t expected him to want just general shots of the post-mortem room and the features, but then next minute I was being asked to move bits and bobs around while they filmed! Then there was a lot of pacing about and fridge door opening. I think the film will be shown at some film festivals in the future so keep an eye out for it.

I never quite realised just how much stuff they would bring!

Death Cafe was a lot quieter and more serious than previous events but it was still a resounding success. We discussed a few different topics, particularly how to react and look after a dying friend or relative and also euthanasia. I was particularly keen to discuss the story of Aurelia a 29 year old Dutch woman who was granted to die due to her mental health illness. One thing I love about Death Cafe is the range of emotions expressed in the two hours. We laugh and get close to tears within minutes, we discuss the serious and the silly. There’s space for any question, discussion topic or anecdote. If you are intrigued by what we do, I really cannot recommend coming along just to see what happens. We are a friendly bunch in a gorgeous venue and there’s no pressure to say anything if you just want to listen.

On that note, I’m thinking about trying to do a weekend Death Cafe at some point. Maybe a Sunday afternoon for those who cannot attend the weekday evening time. If you would be interested in this please, please do let me know as only if I get enough interest will I look to do this!

Today I continued to show our new admin assistant the ropes, booking in the new patients and updating the ledger and computer systems. After lunch, we prepped the post-mortem room for tomorrow by laying out the tools we use. Then we had some Porter training happening where they are shown the ins and outs of how their role fits into what we do. The porters are hugely important as they bring patients down from the wards and they can greatly help the smooth running of the mortuary, we couldn’t do what we do without them!

Handsome Rocky in his cat carrier

In other news; I also got sent the PDF of the upcoming magazine article covering the last Death Cafe and I can’t wait for it to be published. This evening I am waiting for a cheeky takeaway after having taken my little guy to the vets for a checkup. It’s been a busy week so far and I can’t wait to go to sleep tonight! If you have any questions or just want to chat, as always please get in touch! Have a great rest of your week.

MG x

Flood, Fire & Blood

My week in summary! Fairly long post I’m afraid but thought I would update you all on what’s been happening.

Sunday

Sunday morning I got up nice and early and headed to the Gardens of Peace Muslim cemetery. I was very kindly granted a complimentary place on a Funeral Awareness Course for Women by the owner after I had spoken to him about wanting to understand more about the different religions I encounter each day through work. What an eye opening experience! It was a morning course designed to educate women in the various rituals and practices around death in Islam, including a talk in regards to what the Quran tells us about death and how to act around it. I chatted with some of the women during and after, they were all so friendly (maybe because they were curious as to why I was there being the only non-Muslim in the whole place) and kind, I felt very welcome!

In the afternoon I recorded a long overdue episode of the podcast I cohost with Adam called This Little Island. It’s the pair of us chatting about various things, the latest episode being a general catch up on what we’ve been up to. If you fancy a listen you can find it on Apple podcasts or Podbean. I plug Death Cafe for anyone who’s interested in finding out more.

Monday

Busy day at work as per the norm recently, we had to catch up on the booking in from the weekend as well as do some testing of our new computer system that is being implemented soon. I’m very eager to get it up and running and using it! My colleague that is on maternity leave popped in for the morning to catch up on a few bits and it was great to see her too.

In the afternoon I headed over to our other hospital mortuary to cover the opening time there. I was faced on arrival by a giant puddle and a leaky ceiling. Not an ideal start! This made the floor very slippy and then started a two hour mopping, drying and cleaning session with not a chance to do a lot else. I did have a few funeral directors turn up and I welcome them to our new ‘water feature’. Sometimes I have the worst sense of humour!

Tuesday

Packed out post mortem room and time limitations meant that I wasn’t able to practice too much in there, but I did get to try out a couple of different stitches. I really like the Wormian stitch (I think it’s called that!) where the skin lies flat if you get it right but you have to line up your stitches precisely. I think I got the hang of this one today, and another stitch I don’t know the name of but leaves the skin around the stitching almost looking like a spiral shape, it’s satisfyingly twisty.

I spent a lot of time rushing or walking about, trying to answer phones and doors as well as fetching bits and bobs for others. I was asked to go and get some cassette lids for the histology samples that were taken today so I flew up three flights of stairs to the lab only to find myself incredibly out of breath. I’m no way near as fit as I’d like to be! I bumped into the guy who showed me around the lab a few weeks back so he helped me find what I needed. Small, rectangular metal lids that sit in the top of he plastic casing, perforated with holes to allow the processes to take place for preservation.

In the afternoon, I was covering the other hospital again so I headed over there on the staff bus. I’d hoped to treat myself to a Subway salad on the way but the queue was huge so I settled for the slightly smaller queue for the hospital shop and grabbed a salad from there just making it in time for the bus.

No floods on that day but I did have a busy one, booking in all the people from the weekend and the night before. I had someone come to check the light was safe from where the water was coming in and also someone swing by to check a printer could be installed next week. Rushing about is good because the day goes fast, but it’s bad because you don’t feel like there’s enough hours in the day to get anything done. I resolved to get everything up to date with the records over there and I did!

Wednesday

I had another day off, lucky me! You might think I am running out of leave, but taking days off here and there seems to work quite well in appearing to have lots of time off but actually conserve your leave effectively. In fact I just booked a trip to Copenhagen in the Winter. While I do love the hot weather making up for the fact I didn’t get a Summer holiday anywhere, it’s also got me dreaming of jumpers, scarves and being cosy by a fire. Four days in freezing cold Denmark with Laura B to look forward to has sorted out that craving.

Harry Potter & The Cursed Child

I spent the day off with my other half in London watching the Harry Potter play The Cursed Child which was great! I also did a little bit of Death Café planning and visited my parents who had their wedding anniversary, congratulations to them! The next Death Café has been confirmed as the 21st August at our lovely venue The Sweet Rose Cakery. I have made a very summery flyer as you can see below, and hope for record numbers at this event. Maybe the magazine article will be released in time for this one, but if not then September’s event could shape up to be very exciting also.

Upminster Death Cafe August 21st

Thursday

Back to work on a Thursday is a way of making sure you have no idea what day of the week it is! As I woke up early, I planned to get to work a bit earlier as I knew I had to meet with a courier who was picking up some samples to be sent to another hospital. I like to have my black coffee and breakfast when I arrive in the morning as a little moment of calm before the crazy. I’ve found this really good chocolate orange coffee I’m a tad addicted to! Once the courier had been, the rest of the team arrived and I was told that there was one post mortem which I would be completing on my own, obviously with some supervision as I am a trainee, but mostly just get on and do it and see how I got along. I’m proud to say that I completed it with only querying one thing and the pathologist told me she was pleased with what I had done. Chuffed to bits with my progression really, I even remembered that she has the organs in blocks unlike the other pathologist who likes them to come out as one whole block. I’m focusing on just persevering when I find things difficult and only asking for help if I find them impossible or I think I’ve done something wrong. I think that’s a good strategy that should work. I also completed the reconstruction and was pleased my stitching is coming along quite nicely, I had got quite fast but the quality of my stitches had worsened, so I’ve gone back to being slower but focusing on the stitches being neat and creating the seal in the skin that is needed.

In the afternoon I once again headed over to our other hospital to cover the time there. It was very noticeable that it was the warmest day of the year! The mortuary there is not in the basement but at the end of the building (there’s windows and natural light in the office and everything!) so it was very warm in there. The fridge room and visitors area there are no windows so they are slightly cooler and good places to be if you don’t want to be in  the heat. The time there was taken up by a family viewing and a few releases to funeral directors. Family viewings or visits are always nerve wracking for me as I never know quite what to expect. I feel like sometimes I worry unnecessarily that people will be rude or horrible and they rarely are. It does happen, but I really shouldn’t fear it as much as I do!

On my way home I noticed some dark smoke in the sky about a mile away from home. A horrible thought hit me- the park was on fire. I peddled so fast down the main road I was out of breath when I got back, I shoved my bike inside and ran upstairs to see out of the window better. Yep, the park was definitely on fire directly opposite our house. A 999 phone call, a walk around the park and some panicking later and the fire was out. The fire crews of The London Fire Brigade really are incredible!

Friday

More samples to be sent off today so it was another early start in the office sipping my coffee waiting for the doorbell. Had to go give a sample of blood myself in Occupational Health as part of when I cut myself while doing a post mortem a few months back. Was given the all clear so far but have to go back once more in October to get the full all clear.

Not as painful (or messy!) as last time

The day was busy all in all, we had a lot of work and I was on my feet most of the day. My feet actually really ache now. I didn’t cycle today because it looked like it might be stormy, so I got the bus. However, looks like I’ve arrived in time to sit indoors and watch the thunder. Perfect Friday evening viewing.

Have a fabulous weekend everyone. I’m off to a cemetery with Laura D on Sunday and I can’t wait!

MG x

P.S. for those interested, brain count currently stands at 38!

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