so THAT’S what it smells like…


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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