Saturday, August 28, 2004

How does one cope with handling dead bodies for a living?

This was a question posed in a comment from one of my prior postings. I thought this question deserved a posting of its own.

Initially, working with people post-mortem was definitely uncomfortable. But as I've "practiced" it more and more, I've become increasingly comfortable over time. Working as charge nurse, I've had a lot more experience with this particular aspect of hospice nursing - as not only do I do post-mortem care for my own patients, but I've been helping my nurse colleagues with their post-mortem care as well. Repetitive exposure has definitely improved my comfort level.

My initial discomfort with dead bodies was also directly related to my discomfort with death in general. And as I've done a lot of inner work in dealing with my fears around death, my squeamishnesses with handling the deceased have melted away.

There are certain things that continue to disturb me. So I obviously still have work to do. See the final paragraph of my previous posting Rest in Peace as an example.

I'd love to hear from anyone else in professions that handle dead bodies - how do you cope with this unusual aspect to your job? If nothing else, I guess it reminds me of life's impermanence and the need to appreciate each moment we've got. Carpe Diem.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you read Gone From My Sight - The Dying Experience, a small pamphlet for families about what to expect during the last months of someone's life. It's written by Barbara Karnes, a hospice nurse.

It has helped me a lot... Given my current issues in dealing with thinking about death and dying and not being totally freaked out.

It's a lot to come to terms with, even if you aren't experiencing it first hand and just through the lives of others...

Bridget
aka Miss FitsandStarts
http://www.fitsandstarts.org/blog

Nurse Mia said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Bridget. Yes, I have read that pamphlet and you're right, it's an excellent synopsis. Barbara Karnes has two other publications in her series: "A Time to Live" on living with an incurable disease and "My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience." They're also available in Spanish. For more info, see www.bkbooks.com.

mc80 said...

I have worked at a funeral home for almost three years and have done almost 900 removals, and been around over 2,000 bodies and here's a little secret;

After a month of employment it's exactly like any other job. I don't even notice them anymore than I would notice something at any other job.

purply_hazy said...

Intersting career we nurses/student nurses embraced.Lucky for me, I still haven't had that much share of patients who died in the hospital. Know what? I can put up with all the gore, the blood, and the different smells nursing has to offer, but seeing how patients die and the grief surrounding it is one of the main factors that made me have second thoughts about pursuing the course. Luckily, I found people like you who make me see it in a different light. Thanks for dropping by. I'll be visiting here often! More power!

purply_hazy said...

Intersting career we nurses/student nurses embraced.Good for me I still haven't had that much share of patients who died in the hospital. Know what? I can put up with all the gore, the blood, and the different smells nursing has to offer, but seeing how patients die and the grief surrounding it is one of the main factors that made me have second thoughts about pursuing the course. Luckily, I found people like you who make me see it in a different light. Thanks for dropping by. I'll be visiting here often! More power!

Nurse Mia said...

This is for MC-80: Do you think it's good that you aren't affected by the bodies anymore? I guess we'd go insane if they always had some effect on us. That's a lot of deceased you've come into contact with!

mc80 said...

Maybe I'm just not sensitive but after about a month the bodies didn't bother me at all. In fact, I'm almost cold/desensitised to it.