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.

 

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