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Life Inside A Mortuary: A Professional Reveals All

My day begins when someone dies. Since I'm a trade embalmer, I don't handle the first call or transport of a deceased person. I sui...

My day begins when someone dies. Since I'm a trade embalmer, I don't handle the first call or transport of a deceased person. I suit up in personal protective equipment – and evaluate the person to decide how I will proceed. 

Every case is different and requires a special combination of fluids.

Setting the features involves closing the eyes and mouth and placing cotton in the mouth to give the person a more natural expression. Next, I gently flex the arms, legs and fingers to relieve the muscle tension or stiffness. 

I position the hands one over the other, wash the body, cover the genitals and prepare the tools I will need to embalm.

What is body embalming?
Typically, we use a scalpel to make a small incision near the right collarbone. From there, we search for the common carotid artery and internal jugular vein. A small incision is made in each. 

Arterial tubes are placed in the artery. 
Body Embalming 

A drain tube, or angled forceps, is also placed in the vein to facilitate drainage of blood. The embalming machine is then adjusted to regulate pressure. The machine is switched on and the fluid begins to move through the hose, through the arterial tube and into the body. As the embalming fluid is pushed through the arterial system, the blood is forced out through the jugular vein. 

The body is vigorously massaged with a soapy sponge to help facilitate drainage and distribution of embalming fluid. The tissue will begin to firm and take on a rosy appearance. The tubes are then removed, the vein and artery tied off.

Next, the cavity is treated. Fluid is suctioned from the hollow organs with an instrument called a trocar, then a very strong fluid is placed into the cavity and the incision is closed with a small circular plastic button like device referred to as a trocar button. 

The deceased is again washed. Their hair is combed and cream is placed on their face to prevent skin dehydration. The deceased is then covered and will remain in the preparation room until they are dressed ready for viewing.

Frequently asked questions
Q: Tell us about something unexpected that happened to you.

A: I went in for a 3am embalming and heard a strange whisper. I quickly fumbled for the lights and – upon turning them on, figured out that the noise was coming from the occupied stretcher. I approached with caution expecting the person inside could be alive. 

However, upon unzipping the cover, I found a tape recorder (that I later found out was playing a Buddhist chant – a belief believed to calm the soul).

Q: Is it true that they have to 'wire' people's jaws shut, and put contact lenses in people's eyes, and stuff their cheeks with cotton wool? And is it true that the last thing that everybody ever does is evacuate their bowels?

A: The mouth can be closed by suture or by using a device that involves placing two small pins in the jaw to hold the mouth closed. This is almost always done because, when relaxed, the mouth stays open. We also use cotton to fill out hollow cheeks or give the appearance of teeth to those who have none. 

The device under the eye is actually a plastic eye cap that helps keep the eye closed. Cotton is usually sufficient to use under an eyelid if the eye has deflated. If someone hasn't recently evacuated their bowels they may defecate upon death – but not always.

Do ghosts really exist?
Q: Just wondered how you view the subject of ghosts and all the other clichés connected with graveyards?

A: I have yet to see anything that convinced me of the presence of ghosts. If they do exist, I'm sure they could think of better places to be than haunting me at the funeral home.

Q: Is the body still a person or just a human body? And does the dead person's religion change the embalming routine?

A: The deceased is a vessel where life once existed. I still treat that person with respect, but the spark that made them who they are is no longer there. Certain religions do not embalm (Jewish and Muslim are the two that come to mind immediately). 

They believe the body should be buried with all its components. So removing the blood would be a violation of their beliefs.

Q: Can you elaborate on the techniques involved in more violent deaths? What is the most drastic repair work you have had to do and have you ever found this distressing to do or can you just zone out and focus on the task at hand regardless?

A: The more violent deaths involve autopsies and require all the limbs and head be embalmed separately. The organs are also treated separately and placed back into the cavity post embalming. – Online Sources

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