Thursday, May 16, 2013

Medical Science in the Morgue

When I say the word "Morgue" what does that word conjure up in your mind?  Gruesome places, dead bodies laying around, last nights evening news shooting victim, body parts, blood, fluids, stainless steel implements?  Maybe and sadly worse for those who have ever had to go to such a place to make an identification of a loved one this story  may be most disturbing to you.  For me, the Morgue was a work place.  Yes it is gruesome.  It is messy.  It is necessary at times to find out why exactly someone passes on.  In morgue terms it is called expiration and the patient has expired.
 I studied anatomy and physiology in college, parasitology, bio-chemistry, and all the clinical lab sciences.  Nothing could prepare me for what I experienced in the morgue.  Not even the frog, pig or feline dissection we had in A&P.

I was hired as a lab aide straight out of school.  Sporting an A.A.S. Degree in Medical Laboratory Technology I was ready to hit the lab bench.  When I was told part of my duties was to assist the Lab Pathologist with his or her autopsies, my jaw almost hit that bench.  I was scared.  I was intrigued.

During my career, I have assisted a Pathologist with probably about 10 Autopsies.  I was working for the State of New York Department of Mental Health at the time.  I was a Lab Aide at Central Islip Psychiatric Center.  I was part time because I was also attending LIU/C.W. Post to advance my studies and degree.  Arriving to work in the morning I never knew what to expect.  There was an autopsy schedule but the patients were not on it obviously, the Pathologist who was going to cover the procedure for the day was scheduled on it.  Me and my co-hort/co-worker were the assistants. 
There were many a day I just hoped there was not a pending autopsy to be done.  But, it was necessary, and we all took turns covering the need.  Although, the lab manager did pitch in sometimes, the lab aides were the chief helpers.  I got to help a lot almost 1 per month.  With thousands of patients in the mental health facility, many of them elderly, there was quite a great amount of activity in the morgue.

The morgue was bright but not cheery.  A wall of refrigerator, 12 hatch doors, all hiding a slide out metal tray the could hold the heftiest of deceased patient.  Opposite the wall was a wall of windows that would let in natural sunlight into the storage and morgue table area.  The table was stainless steel, typical of what you would see on TV police drama shows.  At the end of the table was a stainless steel sink with hoses that can be used to rinse "things" and the table.  Above the table was a scale used to weigh "things".  At the other end of the table was a cutting board, used to cut "things".  In a storage cabinet was the nastiest, most gruesome looking, horrific sounding device I ever had my hands on.  "The bone saw" was just a nasty device used to cut through bones like the sternum, spinal column, and skull.  That saw screamed and whined at such a loud sharp pitch it was frightening just to hold the  darn thing.  Fortunately, for me, I never had to use it during an autopsy.  My duties were assistant and as such I did mostly clean up, wrap up, moving, weighing, measuring, and observing everything.  The end of my duties for the day were to get everything back in order so the funeral director could remove the body without all the "stuff" falling, pouring, oozing out all over the place.
I would not call it fine stitching, but stitching skin flaps back together with a big bag of organs stuffed back into the body cavity? that was my specialty.

There were several autopsies that stand out in my mind.  One had serious injury involved.  One had a querky Pathologist with ensuing antics around the table.  Two I found astonishing.  The Pathologist was telling during an autopsy that some of these mental patients will eat anything.  Glass, nails, thumb-tacks, bugs, pencils, anything they can get down their throat winds up in their stomachs.  This particular gentleman that we had in the autopsy room was quite hungry it seems.  When the doc opened up the stomach, low and behold there was a treasure of oddity to behold.  Coins, metal pieces form window locks, keys, and a short pencil.  Astonishing it was to see what this fellow ate and was stuck in the stomach.  At another time, an autopsy of a female patient was rather old...The pathologist told me of older times when patients would undergo the labotomy procedure or frontal lobe labotomy.  He told me these were gruesome procedures done under local anesthetic whereby a drill was used to drill a hole through the skull at strategic locations so that a surgeon could cut and remove brain tissue in hopes of improving the condition of the patient.  This poor female patient had three holes drilled through her skull.  Two were in close proximity at the upper-front part of the skull, but there was another larger hole in the skull almost at the back of the head.  It is terrible to think of what these patients must have gone through and endured in hopes of improving their condition in mental facilities all across the globe.  This patient also had sizable and obvious brain tissue deficit.

In today's world, many people need treatment but are afraid of the stigma of "Mental Health Condition" or these people are some of the homeless wandering the streets.  Years ago some people were held against their own will, formally committed to institutions of mental health.  I worked at two of those types of facilities early in my career.  These were dark, dreary, spooky institutional places.  But the staff were loving, caring individuals, highly trained to take care of those that could not take care of themselves.  We have more homeless today because a vast amount of these folks on the street really would qualify and should be taken care of in institutions.  Yes these facilities were not the greatest of places to stay and may atrocities were uncovered by media folks like Heraldo Rivera back in the 70's.  But we can do a better job in 2013.  We can better the care for those who cannot care for themselves now than rather than 30-40 years ago.  Unfortunately, these days it is all about the almighty dollar.  Trillions of American dollars are spent each year to support unworthy causes in far reaching terrorist laden lands; lest we overlook our own desperate needs  on our streets, in our shelters, and under roadway overpasses.

Be good to yourselves, take care of each other. It is rough out there.
My wife chided me for putting a picture of a young woman on my Pinterest boards and this particular female was sporting a trophy for the Worlds Largest Breasts; Guinness World Records.  I told my wife this lady represents the only thing that is good and wholesome in this dreary world we live in.

Be kind to those on the street.

Good day my friends.

1 comment:

Leslie M. said...

Don't push it buster! That is NOT why you but that nasty picture on Pinterest! NOW you're backpedaling.

Your grandbaby is wholesome and wonderful! A half-naked woman with he boobies hanging out with coconuts covering them is

"the only thing that is good and wholesome in this dreary world we live in." Surely ye jest! Uggg

Leslie your wife who is sittin' here with her mouth wide open!


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