Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Wednesday, May 11

L'odeur de la mort:
Dealing, Not Dealing, and Preparing

Halfway through the day, I saw the Medical Examiner putting on far more than the simple protective gowns that we wore; he was putting on a C13 Neoprene Hazmat suit.

‘Where are you going with that?’ I asked.

‘A place that you don’t want to follow,’ he said.

‘Where’s he going?’ I asked the Diener.

‘The Decomp room.’

The Decomposition Room, or Decomp room, is where they perform the autopsies on the dead who have been found in—logically enough—various states of decomposition.

Now, I am by no means a gunner, but that was obviously a taunt. And I wasn’t about to back down from that.

I put on a Hazmat suit that looked like it would fit me. I imagined myself the Red Duke’s son, Paul, putting on a stillsuit for the first time, but I ended flailing around and having the Diener help me with the zippers and hood attachments.

In order to get to the room, you have to essentially go through an air lock. You go through the cooler with all the body bags, through the back door of the cooler, through a weighing area, and into a small—tiny—room with an enormous fan that constantly recirculates the air in the room with fresh air from the outside, this is supposed to minimize the odor, but in the reality of a South Florida summer, it simply makes the room hot. Very hot.

Let me address for a moment, if you will again indulge me, how movies portray the stench of death. Obviously, scent is not really visible. Cartoonists can draw squiggly lines emanating from noxious substances. Movies will occasionally use a yellow smoke, but often that won’t work in a given movie or scene, so they will resort to signifiers. In Silence of the Lambs, they show the agents putting Vicks VapoRub below their nostrils as they approach the body drug out of the river.

This is a rookie mistake. The idea is that the smell of the Vicks will mask the odor, but as any mother will tell you, the menthol and camphor open the nasal passages. This allows more of your olfactory epithelium to be exposed to all the odors you breathe in. It makes the odors stronger and linger in your nose longer. And when I say longer, I mean for days longer.

A better technique is to breathe through your mouth and focus on the work you have to do. But again, I digress…

Tomorrow: The Decomp Room


Blogger Damon writes:

What a great week for death smelling!


Anonymous Anna writes:

But if you breathe in through your mouth, that means you're eating it. Which may or may not be your goal.


Blogger dan writes:

I'd rather smell it than think I was eating it. Breathe thru the nose.

It reminds me of the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. It's one of the most fascinating books I've ever read but I had to turn off the part of my brain that visualizes things while reading it.


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