Hi I work at a morgue. AMA
Edit 3: As a going away present I present to you the Scrotal Rocket (it is done to help remove some gas from decomps). This is also goodbye, might answer questions randomly in the future. Later alligators. http://imgur.com/qSGn8FY (Some people may find it NSFL)
Edit 4: You guys are killing me, I'll keep answering questions throughout the next couple of days. Might take a bit to get to your question though!
Hi there. I started working at a morgue in the beginning of 2013 after graduating from university. I'll try to answer any questions y'all have about what goes on inside of a Medical Examiner's Office. I am an autopsy rat so I will not be able to answer questions about what happens on scene or the paperwork that gets thrown around.
Proof: http://imgur.com/P1LaLOV Sorry about the quality.
Edit1: Hi all, I am going to grab some food. Answer some more questions in a bit!
Edit2: Hey y'all, it is sleep time. Possibly answer more questions when I wake up! It has been a pleasure. Remember to wear your seatbelts.
One time there was a gentleman sleeping in his tent, and then a tree fell on him. Multiple blunt force traumas isn't a very strange cause of death, but having a random tree fall on your sure is an unfortunate way to go.
Not a question but a story of my life. When I was 8 years old my uncle used to own a morgue so one day I was there waiting for my mom to come and pick me up but before that I had to go to the bathroom so I asked my uncle for some directions but the fucker thought that it would be pretty funny to actually send me to the room where they work with the bodies. I opened the door (remember I was 8 years old) and I saw a lady about 25 years old who had just died by being ran over and she was pregnant so the baby died too. I was in shock and I had some problems trying to sleep and eat for the next weeks until somehow I deleted it from my mind (for some reason your IAMA reminded me that episode of my life).
Oh by the way, three years later he died of a heart attack and he became one of the corpses in his very funeral company.
Awh mang, I am sorry that this brought back that memory. At that age I could imagine that it would be difficult to forget the visuals that were introduced to you that day.
You work are a morgue an use the word 'mang'?
Yeah mang! I also enjoy using the word goobers to describe anything squishy or blob like in texture.
So, How strong is your stomach and How the living hell do you stay near corpses for hours?
I'd say it is a bit stronger than your average stomach. However certain cases involving GI problems, or decomps still make me gag every now and then. You kind of get used to hanging around bodies after a while. However there are still some cases (mainly children) who invoke some sad emotions.
What's the worst stench you ever smelled? Was it dead people farts?
The gas expelled from the mouth of a 300 pound decomp as we flipped him onto his belly. It was one of the few times where I literally gagged. Was naaasty, tasted it in my mouth for a couple days afterwards.
Were you paranoid someone would come back to life at any point?
Haha not really, however it is creepy when you get someone who is still warm.
still warm? how fast do the bodies come in?
Some of the bodies can pass at 6:30am and be in the morgue for autopsy at 8:00am
A relative died at 0620, we arrived at this time and he had just gone but was still a normal temperature.
As we saw him again on the way out around 7am he was clearly cooling.
By 8am I was out of the hospital but I wouldnt have thought he would still be warm... So I am confused by your comment unless you live in a very hot region?
I guess I should have said the bodies are very warm relative to the 4°C bodies that stay in the cooler overnight. However the internals do hold warmth a bit longer than the surface of the decedent. Additionally, it depends on the levels of fat on the individual.
So what do you do? I've always felt like coroners just kind of walk into a room to confirm that someones dead.
Do you just walk into a room and say "yep, he's dead" and move on?
Or is this more like Bones?
There are certain reasons for an autopsy to be performed. If an autopsy is deemed necessary, we start the autopsy by taking a picture of the bag with the seal still attached. Open the bag, take pictures, flip the body, take pictures of the back side, flip again. We then take the vitreous humor (eye juice), take finger prints, and then open the body. The techs (including myself) then collect blood and urine for toxicology, and then take out the organs and give them to the forensic pathologist. The pathologist then looks for macroscopic abnormalities to help identify the cause of death, and then collects samples for histology if necessary. Then we sew them up and the mortuary picks them up and I am not sure what happens next. That is the cliffnotes version of what goes on.
Never seen Bones so I cannot answer your final question.
Why do you take the humor from the eye? What does that tell you?
He was just a little bit funny-looking.
I had quite a good giggle reading that comment. I'm surprised I've never heard that before.
The lab can compare the levels of chemicals (drugs, toxins, etc.) in the vitreous to the levels in the blood. The pathologist can use this information to get a better estimate of when the decedent was introduced to the chemicals.
Do they really tie the note thingy around the big toe?
No D: But, we do use the red vinyl wristbands that you'll see at a concert or theme park. The ones with the little clicky buttons.
edit: I guess I should have said that we do not use toe tags, it appears they still do at other places.
Ever tried sewing together spare body parts and reanimating the body?
All day err day, with this song playing in the background: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BnOUOkcr9c
But no, here is the most sewing I do:
Why one stitch on the top of the head?
To keep the skull cap and brain from falling out!
How do they determine who to do autopsies on and who not to?
There was a person I knew who recently died in their sleep at 30 years old. No known medical problems and no drug use. We were very surprised that there was no autopsy ordered, so really no one knows how/why he died.
If there was a "traumatic" death. This includes:
- Accidental deaths
Additionally if there was any suspicion surrounding the death or no previous medical history.
I would guess that the reason no autopsy was performed on the 30 year old was because he might have seen his doctor recently, and that doctor chose to sign the death certificate. They might have taken samples for toxicology but I am not sure.
This has never made sense to me. I read about a race car driver who hit a brick wall going like 120 mph and they did an autopsy. I would guess he died when he hit the wall at 120 mph. Why is it necessary for deaths where the cause is obvious?
He might have hit the wall because he was intoxicated, possibly had a seizure that caused him to hit the wall, possible aneurysm? I believe that is the kind of stuff they look for in cases with an "obvious" cause of death.
What is an MVA?
Whoops, motor vehicle accident!
Oh thanks for clearing that up!
No worries! Don't forget to wear your seat belt :D
Unless we want a tour of where you work...
This is very true. There are easier and less messy ways of getting a tour though!
Oh wow! I am so glad you made this AMA, I have been dying to meet someone like you.
Is there anything that an average guy like me can tattoo on his body to give an ME a good laugh the day they wheel my dead ass in there?
Homemade / prison tattoos always give us a good laugh. Some guy had a bunch of nude-y ladies on him with massive and lopsided breasts, that also gave us a chuckle.
Edit: The doctors take pretty detailed descriptions of any tattoos so if you had an insanely complicated an abstract tattoo, it'll probably piss the doctor off a bit and give the techs a bit of a giggle.
Nice proof pic, loving the artwork! I'd like to ask, what was your first day like? Were you a bit nervous/ apprehensive about 'getting to work' on your first body?
Interesting AMA, keep up the good work and all the best in your future career, whatever you decide to do :)
(Upvote for Radiohead fan)
The first day was interesting. I volunteered at an ER so I have seen a few people pass so the death part wasn't too strange to me. The smell and look on the guys face (it looked a bit like he was screaming) hit me pretty hard. I did get pretty nervous when I removed my first brain, and when I did my first evisceration.
And thank you Mr. Internet Stranger. I wish you the best in your future future endeavours. Oh and try to see Radiohead live, it is a surreal experience.
Woah, that's crazy. I'm pretty sure I would've 'lost it' if I saw that screaming face, so you must have nerves, or balls, of steel. So would you say volunteering in ER readied you mentally for what you see day in, day out at the morgue?
Radiohead are on the "to see live" list, I'm going to make sure it happens one day.
It definitely readied me for the first day. Once I survived the first day it only got easier from there. That was until I experienced my first 300lb bloated and green decomp. That sucked. But after that, things got easy again!
What did you do your undergrad degree in and is it relevant to the work you do now?
Biomedical Sciences, which is essentially a biology degree with a chemistry minor. It is relevant-ish, I am doing this morgue job during my year off before applying to medical school.
I am 22, but I cannot see myself doing pathology in the long term. It seems like a high stress job that is poorly compensated and the pathologists seem to be under appreciated. (This is only from experience with pathologists who work for the county)
I could imagine a face down drowning with some decomp would be near impossible. Not sure if they have special ways of dealing with the bloaty-ness that can occur.
What kind of music do you play in the background when you work? or are even alllowed to play music? i hope its death metal
Sometimes, one of the pathologists has a degree in music so he plays some awesome stuff (including death metal). The other doc doesn't really like having music in the background.
Can't believe no one has asked. Have you known anyone who has gotten caught having relations with a dead body?
Nope! I do work at a relatively small office though. Possibly in the larger cities (LA/NY/PHX) weirder stuff might go down.
It's probably a pretty depressing job at times and I'm sure you have a macabre sense of humor. Is there anything funny that has happened while you were working?
Sometimes when you flip the decedents onto their belly the gas escapes through their anus. I find the sound of a good fart to be absolutely hilarious. I also get a good giggle when someone pops a kidney cyst and it squirts all over them.
Have you ever made a patients... er... deceased's mouth move and make it talk like a puppet?
Nope D: But! Sometimes when you reflect the scalp, their hair gives them a funny looking mustache. :O
Reflect the scalp? I have no idea what that means.
That is my next level drawing of how to reflect a scalp.
You essentially expose the skull cap so you can cut it with the bonesaw to take the brain out.
What was the hardest instance of a body being returned to a displayable representation of what they once looked like?
Corpse reconstruction is more of a mortuary thing, but train victims (people who jump in front of trains) seem like they'd be hard to make presentable again.
I want to jokingly say that you make me feel much better about my drawing skills. Your drawings look frighteningly similar to mine. But my question is have you ever found something inside a body that was not supposed to be in there?
Last week I found a bullet in some guy's cranial cavity! But aside from bullets, I haven't seen anything inside a body that wasn't supposed to be there. There have been some anatomical abnormalities that are pretty interesting but nothing foreign... yet.
Examples of cool abnormalities I've seen:
Wow! I was on death's door with Meckel's and had it removed along with 12 inches of my bowel. I am glad you thought it was cool...I sure as fuck didn't.
It is a pretty fascinating phenomenon from a science point of view, but I could image it would suck a large donkey pecker to suffer from. Glad you're still around! Keep on living Mr. SipRefer!
What has been the hardest autopsy you have had to do?
Obese people are the most difficult, but children are always the hardest emotionally. The doc recommends autopsies on anyone under 2 years of age.
Has your job caused you to change or develop any particular beliefs about death?
I'll welcome death with open arms when the time comes. I've learned to not fear death because it can happen at any time and there is not a lot I can do about it. I have also been desensitized to deaths outside of my family. However if I were to find out a family member had cancer and was going to die in 5 weeks I'd cry my eyes out like a 13 year old girl watching The Notebook.
Please tell me eating is not allowed?! TV shows that show that disgust me!
I am not sure what an ifs is :[
But if it makes you feel better... HOLY TITTY BALLS! NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO EAT THE IFS! EVER!
But no food or drink is allowed in the autopsy suite so I'd assume no one eats the ifs.
wtf is "ifs"
An auto correct mistake :)
Haha yeah, no eating in the autopsy suite. I was thinking ifs were some sort of crazy body part that I wasn't aware of.
What's the most mysterious case you've come across?
There was a collage aged person found on their knees with their throat against a terrarium. A very strange scene without any medical records, but it turns out the guy had a history of seizures. Doc assumed that he had seized and then passed out with his throat on the edge of the terrarium causing asphyxiation.
How can I find employment in a morgue?
I'm not a very social person, but I'm very meticulous, observant and like to analysis and work with my hands.
I'm not sure about Canada, but volunteering at a morgue/coroner is a relatively common thing to do.
Do you prefer white meat or dark meat?
White meat :o
Weird fun fact: sometimes burn victims smell a bit like BBQ
how long did it take to get used to being around corpses?
After a couple autopsies I was used to being around the corpses, but it took a couple more weeks to get used to handling the bodies.
How'd you get your job/choose your profession? Awesome name btw.
Haha thank you! I chose to do this during my year off before medical school! It is nice because there aren't many jobs where you get to use a scalpel without being a surgeon or doctorguy.
Any good morgue jokes? Tasteless ones are fine.
One of the doctors says this to people on their first day (assuming it is a female):
Hey Bob, can you please write down that the vagina is pussy.
Pussy as in puss filled, not as funny in text.
The pathologists can make some good money. It might also be due to the size of the county. One of the forensic investigators said her same job pays $16,000 more at another part of the country.
what's your salary?
Autopsy techs get paid roughly the same as other local government employees. From the webs: U.S. range from $11.06 to $21.69 an hour.
Have you always wanted to go into this field of work? And if so, why?
I never thought that I'd end up in a morgue while still living. But I am taking a year off before medical school so it is a great experience and resume booster.
Do you know what kind of medicine you want to practice?
I am currently thinking radiology! We took a field trip to a radiologist to look at some X-rays we took, and it seems like a fascinating profession.
Have you ever came across a corpse that made you question your career choice? Like something that made you feel sick, or depressed, ect. Also, what is your favorite horror movie?
I don't plan on staying at the morgue for too long, but after the first couple autopsies you become desensitized to the majority of the stuff that comes in. To answer your question, nothing yet has came in that made me feel sick or depressed. Favorite horror movie would have to be Se7en! Great flick!
How did you get this job? Was it posted somewhere and you applied? Or what?
Yupyup, did some googling to find the site for the county morgue and from there it was just like any other job!
Has working in a morgue changed the way you want to leave this earth? or what you want to happen with your own body?
Nothing too much has changed. However if I have an autopsy done on myself, I want it done by some pre-med volunteer who has never seen an autopsy before. Just because I would find it comedic if I was still alive.
How long is a body in the morgue before it get goes to be bury/cremated/etc? Also, what's your favorite band?
Lets say the body comes in Sunday evening, the autopsy will be performed Monday morning and then in most cases will go off to the mortuary by Wednesday. I am not too sure how long stuff takes after that.
Currently my favorite bands are pre-King of Limbs (still a good album but not my favorite) Radiohead and pre-Royalty Childish Gambino.
This seems like an awesome job to do in your gap year before med school! Do you think that considering all your cadaver experience, you're going to kick ass in anatomy lab?
I hope so! I've heard eviscerations are a lot easier on preserved cadavers.
When you do an autopsy what do you do with the body parts? If they're not a organ donor do they go back in the body?
Also do you ever interact with deceased's loved ones? How is that? Or is there a third party involved?
Edit: I meant organs not body parts :/ glad you understood what I meant though!
The investigators do talk with the family. After all the organs are removed and checked out by the pathologist, they get put into a biohazard bag and sewn up back into the body! All the fluids get washed down the drain.
What does it smell like in there?
Sometimes it is effervescent and lovely, other times it smells like coupons and ass. But opening up the bodies has a bit of a sourish smell? Decomps smell a bit like nasty old eggs. Some GI problems smell like poo, because of the poo.
Haha sorry, I took that from a Ralphie May bit where he was comparing white man dreads (coupons and ass) to black man dreads (effervescent and lovely).
Is it awkward when you get a hot girl in? Do they look weird?
I haven't seen any "hot girls" around my age come in, but I would assume it wouldn't be too awkward. She'd probably be just as stinky on the inside as everyone else.
So what organs make the insides of humans smell awful? Is the stench from decay or do fresh victims also have the stench?
The intestines stink up first. But with decomp you get a pretty universal sulfur-y smell.
How does a person get into this line of work?
To be a tech or investigator, it helps to have a college degree in a related field, but you generally just apply like any other government job. To be a pathologist you need to do the whole med school bit. Some counties have coroners which are government appointed officials (do not require MD/DO) but I am not sure what is needed for that.
How accurate is the movie "night shift"?
Never seen it D:
I really need to catch up on the morgue movies.
Have you ever had to work on someone you knew?
Nope, if it was someone I knew they'd keep me out of autopsy for that day. If it was someone the entire office knew, they would send the body to a different county.
1) How do you determine the time of death for someone?
2) On a scale of 3 to 11 how accurate is most of the stuff they show on crime dramas?
3) Can you really pull a finger print off someone's arm (someone else's fingerprint, I mean. Someone who touched the arm) like they did in an episode of Castle
Edit: 3 being as accurate as a drunk Russian with a machine gun, and 11 being as accurate as that time Davy Crockett shot 2 lead balls into the same hole in the target (supposedly).
Determining the time of death is more of an art than a science. There are certain things like the decedents rigor and livor mortis. You can also take liver temperatures over multiple hours and use some equation.
I'll give it a 7. Some is good yeah, some is bad no.
Not sure about fingerprints off of arms, you can take the skin off of someones hand (degloving) and put the degloved skin over your hand and use that to get fingerprints. That is kind of exciting!
Do you do the autopsies? And is it sad working there?
Yeah! I mostly work on removing the brain. I am trained in the general evisceration, but I am still slow and require lots of help still so I let the other techs do that. Generally the atmosphere is pretty happy, I work with a good group of people, but when there is a child things do get a little quieter in the autopsy suite.
What are your religious beliefs?
Grew up Catholic-ish, but don't really have any currently.
What all do you have to do to become a mortician? And when did you realize that it's what you wanted to do?
Morticians are the ones who prepare the bodies for burial/cremation. To do that it is recommended that you get a degree in mortuary sciences. But for the morgue, some counties have a coroner which is a government appointed official (doesn't have to be a doctor), but for counties with a morgue you generally have a pathologist who is someone who has received their MD/DO. And I am doing it as a job during my year off before medical school. I do not think I want to get into pathology in medical school though.
Which character from six feet under do you see yourself as most?
Never seen it D:
Ok the question everybody's thinkin: have you ever gazed at big dead boobies and felt the urge to squeeze?
Nope D: but we do remove implants and they are fun to poke (when outside of the body).
What other information do you collect about the deceased aside from cause of death?
From what I know they look for cause of death, estimate time of death if necessary , collect any evidence if it seems like a suspicious death. There is probably more stuff that the pathologist will look for but what I have listed is all I know.
I heard that dead people fart...
is it true?
Yup! Especially when you flip them onto their bellies.
Have you ever had anyone come in with any weird requests regarding the bodies?
No weird requests, the mortuary that we send the bodies off to might get some funky requests though.
Although not weird, we do get cases from a Reservation and we try our best to accommodate to their burial practices (placing the decedent into the fetal position among other things).
when will Half Life 3 be released?
On a Tuesday. Not sure which one, but it'll be a Tuesday.
First of all, your username is fucking awesome. Second of all, out of the bodies admitted into the morgue, what is probably the strangest cause of death?
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