*****WARNING! ****** THIS BLOG POST IS VERY, VERY GRAPHIC IN NATURE. EMBALMING AND RELATED MATERIAL IS EXPLAINED IN DEPTH! **** WARNING TO THOSE WHO ARE SQUEAMISH OR WHO DO NOT WANT TO KNOW POST-DEATH PROCEDURES, DO NOT GO FURTHER! *** THE FOLLOWING IS FICTION ONLY***
My first visit to the largest prep (emblming) room within the large city in which I lived, was as though I were stepping into a slasher film. In my new surroundings, bodies everywhere, some fully covered, others only partially. An arm off a stretcher here, eyes open on another. So many bodies. I was in the middle of many of them. They rested, though seemingly uneasily, in hallways, along walls, in every open space available. It was crowded, and I was ready to flee. But, I knew this was my chance to learn the career I had always wanted to master. Keep a straight face, I thought. Don’t let these men see you wince.
Deceased in other rooms were in further stages of preparation and had white powdery make-up on their lifeless, moulded faces. Those rooms were as still as the inhabitants themselves.
One small room held one very large casket. I’d never seen a special oversized casket before. The light was off in the small area, but I ventured in and took a look inside. A very heavy woman lay hands crossed right over left. Her face fully made up and hair prepared. She was ready for viewing. The darkness of the space and the reality of where I was caught me off guard, and I scooted out.
Autopsied bodies lay half covered, their entrails in red biohazard bags and placed inside of their body cavities. My eyes took in my surreal surroundings, but my brain wasn’t keeping up.
The place was unlike any I’d experienced; odors of decay mixed with ammonia invaded my nostrils and burned.
I can do this, I thought. This is what I’ve always wanted to do as a career. This is my chance. Get throught the beginning shock of it all, and you’ll be fine.
We were picking up bodies to help the large facility, as they were extremely overloaded at the time. These particular bodies would be embalmed, cleaned, and returned to the huge funeral home.
Our three pick-ups were a family. I listened carefully, thinking I had heard the supervisor incorrectly. A mother, father, and grown daughter. All murdered by a family member and all had been autopsied – in other words, they were filleted, with multiple, deep stab wounds thrown in for good measure.
I tried to help move one of the carriers with the quite-heavy mother on it. I accidentally pushed the collapse bar, and her entire foot portion fell to the floor. Oh my god. I had just dropped half of the poor woman! The more experienced men helped raise her feet again and said nothing. Thank god. The accident could have broken my foot or hands.
Each of us students wheeled a gurney to two waiting vans. We drove the multiple-lane highways, quietly, with the family members in tow. I wonder what they would have thought if they had known how they would die. So violent and all at the same time. Each time we stopped at lights or signs, the gurneys moved a bit.
Once back to our emblming facility, it took eight hours of work on all three. Mama had at least twenty stab wounds to suture. In addition, each person had to be sutured from the autopsy cuts. My mind raced, and my knees wanted to give way, but I, being the only woman in the room of seven men, stood straight and got to work.
The actions I’d never have imagined, the odors I never knew until that night, and the tactile portion – even through thin latex gloves – brought up the hairs on my arms.
They had such cold skin. Blood everwhere. My surgical apron appeared to have been dipped in cherry drink mix. I’d never drink Big Red soda again.
I will spare you the more graphic details. The sounds, the visuals.
Those three dear family members were my first three cases as a student. I would go on to suture more autopsies, suture for hours on a bone doner, a very young man, and embalm elderly people from 90 pounds to almost 400.
I am no longer a student of mortuary science.
Life is a matter of one breath, one pulse of blood, one heartbeat.
And death is not as peaceful as I had hoped.