Yesterday started with me getting punched in the face, and ended with me doing a removal after sitting in dog pee.
And with that, jaundiced bodies tend to be very difficult cases. Short version: jaundice is produced by a chemical known as bilirubin, which stains the skin a bright yellow. Formaldehyde + bilirubin = biliverdin (sp?) which stains the skin a dark green. Many people who die of liver or kidney diseases will be jaundiced, and the shade of a yellow highlighter. (Dark-skinned people will show the yellowing in the nail beds and whites of the eyes; fortunately it can’t be missed.) If you embalm a jaundiced body as usual, most likely the next morning the case will be the shade of a pickle. The entire body, all viewable areas. If this happens, it’s a disaster because the green shade is so dark it can only be hidden under layers of opaque cosmetics, and the cosmetic has to reach into every fold and crevice. The nostrils, the folds of the ears, the corners of the eyes. It’s impossible to make it look like anything other than a dark green body smeared with paint. Happened to me once as a student…so far never again.
Even on people with dark skin tones, jaundice precautions need to be taken. In these bodies formaldehyde is often neutralized, meaning the body is not embalmed as well and may be in bad shape after a long service.
So we have to use different fluids, mixtures and techniques. What I like to do is flush the arterial system with a mixture of water and arterial conditioners, which are added to standard embalming fluid mixtures and do not contain formaldehyde. Many embalmers do not do this because it adds a lot of extra time. I’ve put ten hours into this case so far. It’s basically the effort of embalming two bodies.
Since jaundiced people had so many medical problems before coming to me, they are usually hospital cases needing a lot of other treatments as well. I had to remove GI tubes and several IV lines, and there are still two open wounds exposing internal organs. I have not seen these types of wounds before and will need to consult with another embalmer, but in the meantime I pack and cauterize what I can. There is a huge goose egg swelling on the side of my head and my temporalis muscle is tight. Why couldn’t they at least have beat both sides of my head?
The staff from another funeral home are here, and exclaim how nice it is to see Miz Co-ree-na and do I need anything? I was beaten in the face by two women this morning, so actually I would really like a donut. The man with his hand chronically inserted in a snack bag says, regretfully, he just ate the last of his snacks. Blinking, chewing, I acutely feel these actions. No pain yet, still running hard on endorphins, practically flying all over the room cleaning things I don’t need to clean, replaying the events in my mind. I stayed standing. I stood my ground and smiled with maddening calm, whispering the stuff of nightmares that snaked into the psyche of the first assailant and caused her to scream until she fell. My words knocked her over. Her fist didn’t smear my eyebrows.
The woman’s equally hefty and loving sister, not witnessing the full fight, only saw me standing over the other woman on the ground, and reacted in the manner of someone showing a bias toward her own family. Meaning, I got punched in the face a few more times. The other woman got off the ground and joined in. I caught her eye, giggled and whispered, “Hiiiit me agaaaaaainnnn….” and then there were other neighbors, men, people screaming, and the fight was over. Everyone was telling me to call the police but I had to go to work. I’m hesitant to run screaming to the government because of two women, but maybe I will. Maybe I can get them booted from the neighborhood. This isn’t that kind of neighborhood. Lived here five years and it’s full of older retired people who don’t lock their doors and who all know each other. But, right on a nearby street is this low income housing building, and although I drive by it to get home every day and never have any problems, the people who live nearby say there are always parties and fireworks.
I didn’t hit back. My hands were full. I was protecting my dog and my phone. I can work with a battered face, but I break my phone about 3x a year and my insurance might not buy me another one if it happens again. Additionally, I had been picking up dog poop and had a full poop bag in my hands, and it was imperative this not factor into the fight. Otherwise you just know someone would have filmed. My useless furry slug of a pet merely watched the melee from his relaxing spot under a tree; the catalyst of the fight. I was in their neighborhood. They had evidently pooled their welfare dollars and paid the city for that tree and I was not informed, so I thought perhaps I could walk there.
Overnight, the body did not turn green. I had also added a lot of concentrated red dye to my fluid mixture to counteract any possible greening. The resulting skin color had a slight yellow tinge left. Another tactic used by embalmers is to actually under-embalm the body, since less formaldehyde = less green. This results in a floppy body without the characteristic firmness of other embalmed bodies. However, this body had many wounds to attend to, and was going to be internationally shipped after the funeral service, so I can’t just “sort of” embalm. Preservation through the funeral and the transport is my priority. The appearance of the body, though it may be my reason for living, comes second. With this case, I might be able to accomplish both, since I was willing to sink in ten hours. The fee I will collect from this will not equal minimum wage when I am done.
I did a six-point injection because I wanted to hit the legs hard with concentrated fluid. No one cares if the legs turn green. I had flushed the system so very little blood remained, and I injected each femoral artery downward. I had injected each carotid downward as well, and saw none of the fluid went into the arms, which was perfect. I could inject the arms and head with a different kind of fluid.
I also use bleach packs sometimes; cotton soaked in cavity fluid or phenol. Leave this on the face and hands overnight and it can bleach out jaundice or bruising.
I’m mildly disappointed I don’t have battle scars. The police might not believe me, although I have two witnesses so maybe that won’t be an issue. But the presence of marks can make the difference between an assault and simple harassment. I can see a bit of purple that’s hidden by my hair.
I got called for a removal, so I put some sheets over the body and cleaned up the room. I changed into the suit I keep in the van. I practically live in this van. Protein bar wrappers, Rockstar cans – back up to drinking three per day – my dog’s blanket, funeral home files, ankle tags, embalming supplies, bodybags, my laundry, gym clothes even though lately I’ve been hitting the gym only once or twice a week, Britney Spears CDs and no pen, never a pen. I checked my face again; my hair will hide the swelling. Maybe tomorrow I will have a black eye. My dog doesn’t want to leave the security of the embalming fluid closet and I have to chase the useless thing. I hoisted him under one arm and pushed my gurney with the other, and a wet stain began to spread on my hip. I didn’t react when I absorbed angry blows to the face and I’m not going to react because a dog did a dog thing. Maybe my jacket will hide the pee. I stop at a gas station and get some protein bars, Rockstar and dog food. I have eaten fast food almost every day this week.
I am built of some strong stuff. I was born in a barn and have lived in my car during a Montana winter. I have been over a cliff on a dogsled and thrown off a bucking donkey. I did a backflip while wearing ice skates and standing on a frozen ocean (age 10) and while this ended predictably, I was not hurt, I only split my lip. In games with other kids involving electric shocks and lax parental involvement, I was always the child who would laugh at the jolts and not snatch her hand away. I had two kids with no medication and no tearing despite being five feet tall and having a 9-lb baby in my living room. A rifle has malfunctioned and blown up in my face and I was only grazed. I have never had any sort of menstrual cramps or female discomforts; I actually had to ask what people meant by “period cramps.” My body bounces back. I had three breast augs and was back at work a few days after each one, lifting bodies. I have never broken a bone, been in a serious accident, had an extended illness, or had a medically necessary surgery. I was too clumsy and antisocial for sports but I grew up climbing trees, skiing, dogsledding, river rafting, doing gymnastics and lifting weights. I learned to shoot, was on the track team, and routinely walked several miles a day because I never learned to drive until I was 22. One day I had a funeral but was snowed in, so put my suit in my backpack and I walked there; four hours, some knee-deep. I took a stab at the police academy and in demos I was cuffed and zip-tied, thrown, attacked by dogs, tied to a backboard and hoisted overhead, dragged, and made to do pushups in gravel. I excelled in amateur bodybuilding and could bench press 185 lbs, squat 265, deadlift 225, overhead press 95 lbs from the floor, do 11 unassisted wide-grip palms-out pullups and 60 “real” pushups. I have done removals alone with bodies weighing 350 lbs, and loaded that body into my van, and then into the cooler. I have lifted a body larger than myself in my arms and over my head to get it onto a higher shelf. I can do exactly none of this today. I took steroids for years and quit about 3 years ago. Steroids cause rapid regeneration of torn tissue. Now that I don’t have steroids I try not to overwork that tissue, so in the gym I don’t lift anything greater than my bodyweight. I am nowhere near as strong as I used to be but I am still extremely and unexpectedly strong for a woman of my age and size.
My mom, a soccer player, once seriously injured her knee during a game. She told me she had that “time standing still” moment just before she fell: everything around her froze and she knew she was going to end up in the hospital. And yesterday, when I looked up into the face of every woman I have ever known and saw the sheer bulk of her, that mean right hook, the balled-up fist, everything froze.
She is going to hit you, and she is bigger, angrier, faster. You can’t hurt her, but she can’t put you on the ground. Two of them together can’t put you on the ground. Do not lose composure. Do not cry, or get mad, or raise your voice. Lower your voice. Grin. It will be over soon.
And it occurred to me, the body on my table, the most important person in the world EVEN RIGHT NOW is in great shape. He looks cosmetically good, and probably won’t even need that much makeup. Perhaps I can re-inject him after the viewing so he will be in good shape for the flight. I used two bottles of a special low-formaldehyde jaundice fluid in the head and arms, so I’ll report later if that helped and what the results were over the next few days. His hands pinked up nicely, with clear nail beds. I actually had to do a seven-point injection, and I found the radial artery on the first try. Vertically incise the wrist, sever the tendon, isolate the hairbreadth-sized artery and precisely guide that tiny little instrument into it with my tiny hands that are not at all good for punching. His hand turned out so nice. I can’t wait to see what he looks like today! If this could wrap up…
My face feels like my legs do after leg day. Is this it? My first time getting punched in the face is going to feel like lifting weights, and rather than being filled with blind rage and terror, I’m going to mull over embalming techniques? Ok. I kind of thought it would be worse. Nothing is really hurting. In the future, I would prefer this not happen, but I actually don’t…hate this. I’m still laughing. There are things much worse than this, like that time when I was still a student and got called in the middle of a funeral to touch up the cosmetics on my case who had turned green. That can’t happen.
The women, the biliverdin of my life, are gone, having been dragged off by one of their husbands, and the witnesses are talking to me and telling me I should call the police. I realize I should take out my headphones. Pop there’s a hole in my bulletproof vest took a shot to the chest and I’m running out of breath I’ve just been beaten by two people while listening to Tech N9ne and all I could think about was work. I suppose it’s a good thing that, in this day and age, three women can settle their differences using only their fists and, uh, my face. People have killed over far less. I’ll probably call the police later.
I get to the nursing home and they tell me to park in the front, then to park in the back, then to park wherever. My gurney doesn’t fit on the elevator. I park in the back and they walk me to the front. They leave me alone and I get lost trying to find my way out. I have to call for help on my cell phone from their basement. I turn down all other calls the rest of the night. I’ve had only protein bars to eat today. I’m hungry, I need real food, fiber, I need a big bowl of rice and broccoli and chicken curry with some garbanzo beans…Taco Bell! That’ll work.
I left my phone charger in the prep room, but I left my embalming reports at home, so we’re even. I walked my dog this morning, same place, same time, slowly meandering, listening to Tech N9ne, looking only forward and not over my shoulder. I did not have a weapon. I did not have heavy boots. Had a little bit more purple on the side of my face. My dog seemed not to want to go for some reason.