2012-05-21

Working Funerals - Decomp

    Decomp is short for 'decomposed'.  It basically refers to what you think, a body that has gone 'off'.  This is a briefe post the aspects of a decomp body and how to deal with them.

<> This post might be a bit much for some people, but I have avoided the details or anything graphic, and there are no pictures.  There is nothing too bad in this post, but it does deal with a subject some find touchy or disgusting <>

    There are many different stages to a 'decomp' body.  But it basically comes down to the same thing.  A body that has or is becoming 'ripe'.

How to spot a decomp:

    The main ways to spot a decomp body (which is not hard):

    Smell - decomp bodies will almost always have a certain "off" smell to them.  This smell can be quite faint or it can be extremely strong.  It is usually strongest on bodies that spent time (a few days or more) outside of a fridge.  With bodies that decompose inside the fridge they tend not to smell too much.  I would describe the smell as like rotted meat.  Quite honestly it is a rather unlearnt smell with the power to penetrate through the body bag, fridge and into the mortuary.  There is little point in me describing the smell as it escapes words, but it is instantly recognisable.

    Colour - this is perhaps the easiest way to identify a decomp body.  They will be going green or have turned green "like the Hulk" as one guy said.  The 'greenness' starts in the stomach, this is where the body begins to decompose.

    Texture - a decomp body will also become bloated, damp and 'loose'.  The texture of the body is slippery and to be frank not very pleasant.  The limbs will be loose as there is no rigor mortis at this point.  The worst part is that the skin will feel damp and lose on the body.

    Bugs & Fungus - the bugs on a body are usually maggots and other similar looking small white things.  These bugs normally only start on bodies that have decomposed outside of a fridge.  However when bodies sit in a fridge for a long time they get a strange fungus, either bright orange or pure white.  But they do not get bugs.

    Weight - decomp bodies generally weight noticeably more or less than other bodies.  This is because they can bloat up and weigh more, especially if they decompose out of a fridge.  On the other hand decomp bodies can weigh less than other bodies.  They become smaller, there is less to them, this is especially the case with bodies which sit inside a fridge for too long.

How to deal with a decomp:

    Take a deep breath - this might sound odd and go against all desires but it is by far the best thing to do.  The smell is the worst thing about a decomp body, so getting rid of it makes everything else so much better and easier.  The fastest way to get rid of it is to adapt to it, this is done by breathing in the smell.  One or two deep and long breaths later the smell is nowhere near as strong.  After a few more minutes the smell might be completely unnoticeable.  Trying to keep the smell "out" of your nose will only make it last longer.

    Poly bag - the main and best thing to do with decomp bodies is "poly bag them".  'Poly bag' is simply putting the body in a special bag then sealing the end with an iron.  The bais made of a clear and mostly stiff plastic which is air and leak proof.  This is the best thing to do with a decomp body, especially if there are bugs or fluids as it will keep in the bugs and fluids.  However, while the poly bag does help reduce the smell it cannot completely contain or remove it in bad cases.

    Open slowly - when opening a body bag which contains a decomp body always do so slowly and carefully.  Quite often fluids will pool at the bottom of the bag and condensation will collect on the sides.  So open and close the bag slowly to prevent splashing any fluids about.

    Odour neutraliser - there are several products out there to reduce the smell of a body.  One of the best according to the embalmer is a product called something like VM3.  It is an all natural product which significantly reduces or completely removes smells.  Further more it has no real odour of its own.  Another great option is baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate).  Mix it with some water and it will make a great odour neutraliser.

    Mints - eating a mint shortly before or while working with a decomp can make the job a little more pleasant.  This will reduce what you smell and make everything slightly nicer.

    Kerosene - putting kerosene on bodies with bugs is an old trick.  The kerosene will kill most of the bugs overnight.  It will even kill many of the bugs inside the body, not just the ones on the surface.  This will not kill everything.  Unfortunately this is something one can only do in the mortuary.  On the transfer you will have to suffer the bugs as bug sprays will not kill the things inside the body.

    Masks - some people wear masks when handeling decomp bodies.  This can help, and more importantly it makes the whole adventure appear nicer or safer.  However they do not actually make much difference in terms of safety or pleasantness.

    Double glove - this is more a safety measure which can be used on transfers or in the mortuary, but with decomp bodies one should wear two gloves on each hand.  Doing this not only makes it less likely for something to get through the gloves but also means that if the outside pair get 'dirty' you can take them off and still have gloves on.

    Aprons - in the mortuary one should wear an apron when handeling a decomp body.  This prevents any unwanted 'bits' getting on your person.  Unfortunately this is rarely available or practical on transfers.

Things to watch for:

    Skin slip - this is rather unpleasant.  It is basically where the skin or flesh of the body slips as it is picked up or moved.  It can happen with elderly bodies, however it is much more likely and much more unpleasant with decomp bodies.  So watch how you hold these bodies.

    Smell - the smell can almost literally hit you when you first encounter a decomp body.  If going into a room or opening a bag that contains a decomp body prepare yourself for the smell.  It can hit hard but will fade fast (especially if you let it in).  The first few moments are the worst but after that it becomes better.  The worst thing about the smell is how it can penetrate and cling.  It can get through a body bag and a fridge then will stick to your cloths.

    Bugs - they are very unpleasant.  But there is little to nothing one can do to manage the bugs outside the mortuary.  As with smell the best you can do is know about it ahead of time and mentally prepare yourself.

    Fluids - this is exactly what it sounds like.  Bodily and other fluids can pool and accumulate, especially in body bags.  Be aware of this when dealing with decomp bodies.

Some last words:

    In the end you can do what a lot to manage a decomp body.  Yet it will never be a pleasant job and will often be difficult, physically and mentally.  Decomp bodies can be heavy, they can be lose and there can be fluids.  But in all honesty decomp bodies are not always as bad as they sound.  Yes they can be extremely unpleasant but generally it is not too bad and often down to personal taste.

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