so THAT’S what it smells like…

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I got to embalm an autopsy case today, and it was amazing. It might sound a little morbid to be excited about it, but I couldn’t wait to get in there and see everything. I was so curious was it was gonna look (and smell) like.

We got our case onto the table and began to remove the body bag. As soon as I unzipped it, the smell hit me. I don’t even know how to describe it. Sort of the smell of rotten meat and mixed with a moldy/musty stench. It was pretty thick, thank god for our ventilation system.

We washed them as we would a normal case. This case was a little older than our first, so their condition was a little worse. I was assigned to position #4, which is the right leg, and once we did our primary disinfection and washing them down, I got to raise the right femoral artery. I found it rather quickly (that’s 2 for 2 on quickly raising and ligating!).

Next we were instructed to remove the sutures in the Y-incision, and that’s when the smell really hit me. There was a towel in the cavity that had soaked up the fluids and decomp, so it was a pretty gnarly stench. Our instructor told us how we sometimes have to treat the viscera from autopsied cases and how sometimes there is no viscera. We happened to get a case were there was none, but we still got to help locate and secure the subclavian, iliac, and carotid arteries.

This was the first day where we got to mix and use the embalming chemicals. They actually smelled kind of nice, which probably isn’t a good thing, since you know, cancer. We then placed the arterial tube in the left iliac artery and began pumping the leg with chemicals. I was surprised on how quickly the process takes effect. The tactile difference was apparent in around 3 minutes, and we probably only pumped it into the leg for about 5 minutes total. I got to assist in placing the arterial tube into the right side and then help massaging the leg to help in disbursing the fluid throughout.

As we went, we used a hydro aspirator to help remove fluid that leaked from the vessels. We were careful in making sure the body’s now open cavity didn’t pool and fill with fluids. The subclavian arteries were used to help embalm the arms. The same technique of massaging while pumping the fluid was used until there was a noticeable difference in their appearance and coloring.

Their head was next, and since there was a full autopsy (full meaning the eyes and brain were removed), we had to make sure there was fluid disbursing throughout, but also no leakage. We had to clamp a couple of arteries to make this happen, since they’re tiny and abundant. One the process was done, we cleaned them up; washing and drying everything. We didn’t get to suture them though, due to time and experience, our instructor was going to leave that for the embalming 2 students.

I was excited before this semester to get into embalming, but I didn’t realize how exhilarating it would be. It feels like this is becoming a new passion for me. Or maybe it’s I’m becoming the jack of all trades (maybe a master at some). I enjoy talking about working in a funeral home, helping families through their times of grief. I now enjoy both sides. Helping the family and now directly helping the dead.

Each day, more and more, I know I have chosen my path in life. I’ve seen quotes and things out there talking about if you want to know what someone’s passionate about, listen to them speak on it (or something to that effect). I was told the other day that I light up when I talk about this stuff. It’s not that I’m creepy and morbid and trying to freak someone out. It’s that I’m gaining knowledge in a field that I have passion for. I’m discovering a world and a career that makes so much sense to me and I LOVE it.

I don’t love everything about school, but that’s a topic for another day…

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It was colder than I thought it’d be…

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I prepped my first body.

Out of respect of the deceased, I will not give details as to who this person could’ve been. I will say this, I thank them sincerely for letting me learn this new skill. Their participation in this may not have been what they wanted at the end of their life, but I am deeply and truly grateful for their help in furthering my knowledge of embalming.

Talking about it, memorizing vessel guides, and looking at pictures in books can only get you so far. Maybe it’s enough for some, but this is a skill where you need practice and hands-on learning. This person is an unclaimed body. They end up at our school because their family wasn’t (and may never) be found.

There was a nervous energy in the room from all of us. Most of us had never been in a prep room, so this was a whole new experience. There were 2 bodies. They read off their names and what they died from. The room was divided in half and we began the process. We removed the outer wrapping and began the primary disinfection. We were told we were lucky. This case had been dead for a few weeks, but they were in such good condition.

As a team, we washed and prepped them. We were all extremely careful and meticulous. Our instructor was amazing! She was so clear and concise with her directions, but also cheery and kept the room light. We had to roll them and wash them and clean them. I got to be one of the first to touch them, and it was surprising how cold they were. I guess you still assume that a person shouldn’t be so cold.

We got to clean their nails since that’s something a family would see first and touch at a viewing. We learned how to place an eye cap in their eye. We learned how to maneuver them and place blocks and things under them to elevate them off the table for drainage. We learned how to apply massage cream. We learned the different techniques and things for when we’re washing, what to do and not do.

She showed us all the little steps and then offered us the chance to try something. It was awesome how eager everyone was to learn. We were given the chance to take breaks and we declined every time. We just wanted her to continue to show us the next step.

Once we were raising arteries, we all got a chance to raise a different artery from one of our incision spots we had memorized days before. I myself got to raise a radial artery! Once we all had the chance, it was about time for clean up. Our instructor informed us that they would be embalmed later that day (possibly once we were all gone) and that we had done a great job. We washed them once more, patted them dry, and covered them with a sheet. We sanitized and washed and disinfected everything like we had splashed blood everywhere (my personal favorite thing, as I’m sort of germaphobe).

Once we were out of the prep room, I was surprisingly starving. A couple classmates and I went out and sat down and had our lunches. Every once and a while we’d say, “guys, we just did that”. It was sort of surreal.

I remember comparing it to a life drawing scenario. We weren’t just starring at a naked person and giggling and drawing them, you break the parts down and draw what you see, it’s weird how their nakedness doesn’t phase you. Once we were in there, it wasn’t just a dead body. I sort of broke it down into parts of a whole and focused on what we were doing, not sitting there saying, “OH MY GOD ITS A DEAD PERSON!!” like some outside of this profession might.

I think that’s one of the main things people are thinking when people hear that I chose this profession. That I’m some weirdo that just wanted to poke dead people. Or how could I be so comfortable with dead things, like it’s just so disgusting to consider being around something that’s dead.

Death and taxes my friends, they’re inevitable. Everyone’s gonna do it, wouldn’t you want the person taking care of you when you’re gone to actually enjoy what they do for a living? Take the time and respect the dead? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

 

One down…

So my first week of the second semester is officially in the books. I was pleasantly surprised by how I felt by the end of it. For whatever reason, I thought I was gonna feel extremely overwhelmed, but I’m actually just feeling super excited for the semester. This could change in an instant though, so I’m hoping to ride this optimism for a little while longer.

First class was my management 2 class. We just hopped right into it with the review exam and group projects. We knew ahead of time about the exam, so I studied for it to some degree. Turns out I actually retained some information because I ended up getting a 90%! We also dove into the deep end with group projects and business plans. Luckily, it seems like the group I was placed in is on top of it. One of the group members attempted this class in the summer and has an idea of what we’re doing, so her calm, “let’s get this done” attitude made me feel better. The only part of this first class that makes me feel the grinding in my gut is the fact that since it meets every other monday, we won’t have this class again until the 29th…when we’re presenting group assignments. *GULP*.

Tuesday was my first anatomy/pathology 2 class with my new teacher. I didn’t have a class with Mr Mac last semester, but I did interact with him here and there, and he seemed like a really nice guy. Turns out he’s awesome! He loves cats for one, and he’s also into motorcycles. He’s also been in this industry for 40 years (I think he said?). I love the way he presents info. I had anatomy/pathology 1 last semester with one teacher, and I had a hard time with the way she presented stuff. Mr Mac is straight forward and VERY anecdotal (lots of stories while he’s presenting, but they’re all entertaining at least). Plus, my first quiz in there I got the full points cuz he’s not trying to confuse us, he’s literally just quizzing us on whether or not we know the information presented, THANKS DUDE!

Wednesday was an interesting day. It was 2 classes with Bower, and while I love classes with him, today was weird. We had thanatology 2 in the morning and he decided to open the class up with about 45 mins about this funeral he did the Saturday before school. I knew what was coming by the heads up from Sam and Jane from Orientation the day before. This funeral was HIS grand babies. He embalmed them and talked about the service and what his family is going through. Then he proceeded to tell us that this semester is about to be his therapy sessions (I still don’t know if that was a joke or not). After that, we did class like normal, and it was just like last semester’s thano class, so nothing new to report there.

Later that day was our embalming 1 lecture. This was one of the classes I was most excited for this semester. Bower had joked with us between classes that he wasn’t going to bring up dead babies anymore (thank the Gods), so we just had a normal introductory lecture. We were also informed that this is going to be the first semester that the embalming 1 class is going to embalm a body from start to finish! We’re going to be given the opportunity to do this because that’s how the industry works and they want to give us as much exposure and practice as possible. I love that they strive to give us the best possible chances in school to get as much experiences as we can, so I’m extra excited!

Thursday morning was my first experience in an embalming prep room. We had our Lab from 9am-noon, and we were shown the room we’re going to be in. Part of the introduction/attendance time was spent asking how nervous we were on a scale of 1-10. Many of my fellow cohorts apparently have some high anxiety about the embalming lab. I think one other person than myself said they have little to no anxiety, and honestly, I think my “1 or 2” is mostly excitement and not nerves. The embalming teachers, Mr Cano and Ms Hopper, seem like extremely knowledgeable teachers (they’ve been doing it for over a decade), and I’m really excited to work with them. Thursday afternoon was round 2 of anatomy/pathology 2 with Mr Mac, and he was a little more talkative this time. All in all, it was a quick lecture and we were done.

Friday morning was all about restorative art 1 with Mr Mac. This is the other class that I just couldn’t wait to take. It’s 4 hours in the lab, but I think once we’re actually working with the clay, it’s gonna go by quickly. We spent the morning going over syllabus stuff and a fire evacuation drill, followed by making our mats of contact paper and instructions. It got a little long and boring by the end when he started the lecture portion, but luckily, we decided, from now on, to do lecture first thing in the morning so we can get it out of the way and move onto lab work. Again, he’s very anecdotal, so it felt like there were more pauses between slides than there should have been, but again, he’s got some interesting ones at least!

So that’s one week down. This semester is twice as much work as last semester and I’m weirdly into it. I have no idea why. I’m just hoping I can keep this momentum going throughout the semester, because if I can do the whole semester with this mindset, I’m getting it done RIGHT. I have my last new class of the semester tomorrow (since it starts every other Monday), and I’m not really excited for the subject. Law just really isn’t my bread and butter, but hopefully I can take that optimism of the semester and make it work. I probably shouldn’t have stayed up till 1:30am the night before this class, but oh well, it doesn’t start until 1 pm tomorrow 😛

…15 to go.