Blue hydraulic mortuary/funeral trolley for illustration only. Not actual one as featured.
Suggested audio: Cups by Underworld. A track I played every night back then as I loved it and it still gives me good memories.
The department of histopathology and the mortuary, The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust on Sydney Street here in London. My place of work before my declining health ended my career goals. A role which people were repulsed by, didn’t believe or were in complete awe. Some shunned me, others asked countless questions. One popular enquiry was, “did anything funny ever happen?” . Controversial perhaps due to the question applying to a place that deals in tragedy and loss.
The environment consisted of windows with textured glass to protect curious eyes and forbidden from being opened in muggy weather. A radio sat never allowed to be switched on. Who even put it there!? Tiled floors and stainless steel equipment which were stain less because of my overuse of Vim Scourer. Blue walls expressionless and clinical. Instruments, or tools as I called them due to rib shears and the bone saw looking too clunky to be branded the delicate term “instruments”, were all lined up ready for the next case. My prior brief training as a dental nurse instilled in me the automatic preparations for the next case. Blade screwed on to the PM40, electric bone saw tested, twine threaded through curved needle and ready for case be it routine or coroner’s.
I was renown for my trendy vests with various prints ranging from a clichéd skull and crossbones to Bruce Lee and Anita Pallenberg. One day my bleep went off indicating I had to lay someone out in the Chapel of Rest for their family to view. First off, I’d forgotten to unlock the outer entry door and as I formally went to meet the relatives, I was met with puzzled glances. Oh dear. I was wearing a tight vest bearing a large pink glittery skull and crossbones. For the remainder of the day I wore it inside out!
And yes of course, there were incidents where like undertakers do with coffins, we dropped a body. One lone undertaker strangely turned up many times to collect a body despite me being nowhere near strong enough as another man. The flimsy stretchers often buckled in the middle and I lost my grip. You can image the fiasco we had trying to load them into the private ambulance under the amused gazes of eyes all around us. I reported it to my boss but fortunately it was seemed an occupational hazard.
Two incidents still make me laugh to this day. First of all my trousers fell down whilst I was sawing the skull in full view of cardiac pathologist, the wonderful Professor Mary Sheppard who was a delight to work for, and a doctor who had come down to view her findings. We were all contaminated and couldn’t immediately tend to my indignity so after a good laugh, I sorted myself out and pulled the waist cord into the tightest double knot I could manage. What added insult to injury was my red “No Entry” thong from Top Shop.
We had a blue hydraulic trolley to transfer\load\unload bodies which had several rollers along it’s length for easy transfer. One day I was deep in thought and instinctively sat down on the and of it, where the first roller was. Suddenly I slid in between two rollers and got very stuck indeed. No-one can hear you shouting from within the mortuary due to it’s subtle location but I shouted as loud as I could. Eventually a porter heard me and let himself in. Their swipe cards permit admission should they be required to transport the deceased from ward to cooler. We had a good laugh, he heaved me out then I treated him to a quick Coke in the canteen. Lessen learned: never sit near rollers!
Many amusing curiosities happened in those days at work, most too graphic to include here, which helped us through the long days of strict concentration. Everyone up in pathology were good fun as were the porters, undertakers, the linen store staff whom I frequented for sheets and pillowcases (used for pillows in the Chapel of Rest and sheets for wrapping up the deceased), the ladies the Fulham Road wing and all other member of staff involved. Most people us were morbid hence our choice of work but had our own sense of humour.
Together with humour and the feeling of being one but quirky family, the grim side of medicine posed no feeling of stigma. We were dedicated, respectful and quietly proud. People who were repulsed or doubtful suddenly didn’t matter. All that truly mattered was remembering not to wear that skull vest anymore and stick with sensible underwear.
And I still believe the Fulham Road wing mortuary was haunted!
See also Eyes Glazed Over
Copyright: Sharon Lawson™