11
Feb
05

“Bringing out the Dead”

I don’t know if the average person ever thinks about the issue of removing a body from a scene. Most everyone has seen a body rolled away on the news or on a crime drama by people specially “trained? to perform that task. Needless to say, there is no actual formal training. Each removal is potentially its own little training session. Training sessions are distinguished from routine removals as they are typically punctuated by variations of the phrases “That worked well? or “Don’t ever try that again.?

A best-case scenario for body removal is a 100 pound little old lady that died in bed during the night on the first floor of her house. First, she’s easy to lift. In fact, it may be possible to collapse the gurney to the same level as the bed and just slide her over wrapped in a sheet. Second, she’s already laid out flat. No need to struggle with breaking the rigor mortis in order to buckle her to the gurney. Next, she died in the night. She hasn’t been dead that long, so there may not be any foul odor until her body is moved. And lastly, she’s on the first floor, so no more than one or two steps to go up.

Now for a worst case scenario—a 350 pound man that died in bed two weeks ago on the third floor of his apartment building. Obviously the increased weight changes everything and it’s only complicated by the fact that he’s been dead for some time. It is now necessary that he be placed in a body bag in order to contain the decomposition “juices? that have accumulated just under the surface of the skin. The rigor mortis has already gone away or “passed,? but his girth still makes it difficult to zip up the body bag and to strap him to the gurney.

The only redeeming element of this scenario is that the man is in bed and not directly on the floor or (God forbid) in the bathtub. As it stands, I would lay the open body bag on the floor next to the bed. Then I would throw a bed sheet over the body to catch any decomposition juices expelled from areas of concentration ruptured during the initial move. Next, I would grab the body through the sheet, pull it from the edge of the bed, and let gravity do the rest. It’s at this point that the decomposition juice is actually helpful. It makes for a slippery surface on which it is much easier to slide a body.

Once he’s in the bag, there is still the issue of getting him to ground level. He’s already met the “250 Pound Rule? which states that “Anyone who dies in an apartment building above the first floor is guaranteed to weigh at least 250 pounds.? Hundreds of apartment buildings in this city and they seem to have all been constructed before the days of handicap accessibility.

Without an elevator, gravity is called upon once again. I am a firm believer in letting the floor do the majority of the work, so there is a lot of sliding involved—especially when it comes to stairs. Holding on tightly to the bag, I slowly allow it to slide down each flight of stairs to the ground floor. The drawback of this process in conjunction with the lack of rigor mortis results in the body slumping down into one end of the bag like an orange in a sock.

I’ve lost count of how many times I wished I had “body handlers? at my disposal like the ones that are often shown on television and in movies. Hollywood body handlers are typically two respectable looking actors with no lines that are shown moving the body from the scene on a gurney. Their manner of dress makes them look a lot like paramedics but without the sense of urgency burdening those with life-saving responsibilities.

In the real world—or at least my corner of it—the body handlers are myself, the mortician transporting the body, and anyone else willing to help. Needless to say, volunteers are usually hard to come by.

After reading the above, Douglas commented:

“You mention using the floor to do most of your work. And specifically describe a trip down the stairs. Is there not much concern that a bouncy trip down the stairs would produce new damage or obscure existing wounds making pronouncement that much more difficult??

To which I responded:

As I reread my post, I can see where my description sounds like a scene from “Weekend at Bernie’s? with a body sliding uncontrollably down the stairs like a runaway toboggan. It’s more of a controlled slide as we ease the bag down with the help of gravity. It still requires some straining, but considerably less than carrying it the whole way down.

As such, there is minimal impact to the body. I have seen a head strike a concrete surface as a gurney fell over. There was a slight mark to the scalp but no underlying fracture present at autopsy and there was no swelling because there was no blood pumping.

About the only trauma that might occur would be an abrasion to the body from rubbing against the inside of the bag. In this case there would be very little “reaction? in the skin tissue–that is to say the abraded area of the skin would have a parchment-like appearance as opposed to the typical appearance of aggravated tissue that has started to heal itself.

As for obscuring the wounds, they should have already been documented before removing the body.

Couches are easier to move down stairs. They may be bulkier, but they are much more rigid and the weight is even distributed. Even a body in full rigor will sag in the middle making the body seem much heavier. I wouldn’t be surprised if an undertaker was the first person to coin the phrase “dead weight.?

Hope that answers your question…

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11 Responses to ““Bringing out the Dead””


  1. February 11, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    Fascinating read. You’re right most people don’t think about this sort of thing!
    Emma

  2. February 11, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    Just wanted to take a moment to say how fascinating I find your blog. A true departure from your average “diary”. 😉

  3. February 11, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    You mention using the floor to do most of your work. And specifically describe a trip down the stairs.

    Is there not much concern that a bouncy trip down the stairs would produce new damage or obscure existing wounds making pronouncement that much more difficult?

  4. February 12, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    Now that is just nasty!! So glad that’s your job(hope you get paid very well)…I’ll stick with accounting thank you.

  5. February 13, 2005 at 4:33 am

    Just wanted to say I’m really enjoying this blog. It’s unusual, and funny in a strictly gallows humour way! Good luck with it.

  6. 6 A Douglas
    February 13, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Douglas:

    As I reread my post, I can see where my description sounds like a scene from “Weekend at Bernie’s” with a body sliding uncontrollably down the stairs like a runaway toboggan. It’s more of a controlled slide as we ease the bag down with the help of gravity. It still requires some straining, but considerably less than carrying it the whole way down.

    As such, there is minimal impact to the body. I have seen a head strike a concrete surface as a gurney fell over. There was a slight mark to the scalp but no underlying fracture present at autopsy and there was no swelling because there was no blood pumping.

    About the only trauma that might occur would be an abrasion to the body from rubbing against the inside of the bag. In this case there would be very little “reaction” in the skin tissue–that is to say the abraded area of the skin would have a parchment-like appearance as opposed to the typical appearance of aggravated tissue that has started to heal itself.

    As for obscuring the wounds, they should have already been documented before removing the body.

    Couches are easier to move down stairs. They may be bulkier, but they are much more rigid and the weight is even distributed. Even a body in full rigor will sag in the middle making the body seem much heavier. I wouldn’t be surprised if an undertaker was the first person to coin the phrase “dead weight.”

    Hope that answers your question…

  7. February 14, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    interesting niche in cyberspace. Surprising that no one has to help you with 350 lbs of juicy dead weight

  8. February 14, 2005 at 8:20 pm

    wow. i could write a whoe story around your information. very interesting. thanks for sharing.

  9. February 14, 2005 at 10:46 pm

    Wow…fascinating.
    Thank you for sharing, but mostly, thank you for doing what you do.
    I’d be interested in hearing why you chose this line of work and how long it took you to get used to it. After all, many end up in banks, sales, or sanitation because it’s “a job.” But a line of work like yours requires extensive training and forethought. I’d love to hear more.

  10. 10 Brooke
    February 10, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    ‘He’s already met the “250 Pound Rule? which states that “Anyone who dies in an apartment building above the first floor is guaranteed to weigh at least 250 pounds.?’

    LOL! As a critical care RN this reminds me of one of our rules called the “Tooth to Tattoo Ratio”.

    “If a patient has more tattoos than teeth, there’s no way to kill him.”

    To clarify, (just in case), no one in the ER is actually trying to ‘kill’ the patient – it’s just seems that no matter what shape s/he comes into the ER; the survival of said person is guaranteed. ;0)

    Brooke:
    Your comment sounds very familiar.

    We too use the word “kill.” It’s really just a conversational “shortcut.” If I ask a pathologist “Did you kill him?” it’s just a much shorter way of asking “We’re you able to find an obvious cause of death during the autopsy?”

    There’s also seems to be an unwritten rule that if a person has more tattoos than teeth, they are guaranteed to become a Medical Examiner/Coroner case someday.

    A Douglas

  11. 11 Kate
    July 13, 2006 at 1:19 am

    Thanks for the tip on using the sheets. DUH! I should have thought of that myself. We’ve been double-bagging the messy ones with a light weight bag then a heavier bag on the outside. A sheet is cheaper and easier as well.
    Do you generally take photos from all angles when picking up a body, or just a few? I’ve often found them to be very useful, though they don’t always seem so right at first.
    Love your blog!


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