And it’s nothing like BBC Silent Witness
It sounds like a dark and depressing job.
But working in a mortuary can be fulfilling, complex and even uplifiting.
The job involves far more than pushing trolleys and putting bodies into cold storage. It is a highly skilled job that is ultimately meant to help the family and friends of a departed one.
To do the job you need to have an extensive knowledge of the human body and the organs’ functions.
You cannot be squeamish and nor can you let the job affect you emotionally, despite the disturbing ways in which some people meet their deaths.
As you will be dealing with heartbroken relatives you will also need counselling skills to treat survivors of the deceased with dignity and compassion.
The Hull Daily Mail visited a Yorkshire mortuary to gain insight into a difficult but necessary job.
“We are helping people during what is probably the most difficult time of their lives,” mortuary and bereavement manager Andrea Kaye, of Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, said.
“The job is not glamorous and it is not nice some of the time but you are here to help people.
“There are families who need help and practical support with paperwork and organising funerals.
“We do that but we also help people find answers through the autopsies carried out.”
Andrea admits you have to control your emotions when working at the mortuary.
“You learn to have some clinical detachment,” she said. “It isn’t something you have straight away and you build it up through experience.
“It can be upsetting to be with families who have lost a child or anybody really. The circumstances in which some have died can also be very upsetting.
“We just have to remain professional and ensure we treat both the deceased and the family with dignity and respect.
“But I still go home thinking about something that day which can keep me awake at night.”
Andrea admits dealing with death on a daily basis can take some getting used to.
“When you first see a dead body you simply cannot prepare for it no matter what people tell you beforehand what you will witness,” Andrea said.
“You are looking at a person who was alive not long before and is someone’s loved one.
“You have to be robust in this job and, within six months, you will know if this is the job for you.”
The amount of work mortuary staff get through is quite staggering but it is always done with sensitivity and decorum.
“When bodies are brought in the identity is checked. We wait for the coroner’s information before carrying out the autopsy.
“We carry out between three and ten autopsies a day and they will last around 45 to 60 minutes. We receive around 2,700 to 2,900 admissions annually.”
People may be surprised by the skills needed to work in a mortuary.
“Our technical staff are known as anatomical pathology technologists,” Andrea said. “We have to prepare the bodies for the pathologists by removing the organs and then reconstruct the bodies afterwards.
“We have to do even more detailed reconstructions for some bodies, such as those in traffic accidents, so they are viewable for families. There are occasions where we can do nothing, such as those that are badly decomposed.
“This is a difficult job and you have to be very dextrous to be able to reconstruct a body. There can also be heavy manual work involved as well.
“This job is certainly not as glamorous as it looks on television shows such as Silent Witness.”
There are seven in the team at the moment but there should be nine or ten at full capacity.
Alongside the technologists, there are mortuary support officers and bereavement officers.
It takes around six years to train as a technologist which includes on-the-job training.
Staff try to release bodies to the families as quickly as possible but it is not always that easy.
“They may have died, but the people who come here are patients of ours and remain in our care until handed over to the funeral directors,” Andrea said.
“A body will remain in the mortuary for three or four days but that can be much longer if there are a lot of deaths which is often the case in winter.
“We may keep forensic cases longer and, it is really sad, but sometimes we struggle to find relatives or they simply don’t want to know.”
There is a general room to carry out autopsies with five tables which means five autopsies can be carried out simultaneously.
But there is also a special room for more complex cases.
“We have a category three isolation room for infectious diseases such as TB although more serious ones such as ebola will have to go elsewhere,” Andrea said.
“The room is also used for forensic cases for those who have died as a result of a crime.
“Staff have to wear suits and masks and there is a special UVC light which eradicates DNA to avoid any cross-contamination. There is a separate room with a special door through which police officers can pass through exhibits.
“This forensics room has been used 17 times already this month which is a phenomenal amount. It equates to almost half the number we’d expect in a year as we normally have around 40 forensic cases annually.”
So, how do you get into such a fascinating if somewhat morbid career?
Andrea admits she never had a burning desire to work in a mortuary and kind of fell into it.
“I had lab experience,” she said. “But I was working in concrete sales at the time when a friend saw an advert for the mortuary and said I should go for it.
“We had a bet on whether I would get an interview. I did and then I got the job. I had never, ever considered anything like this.
“I was invited to look around and observe what they did and I then knew this was the job for me.”
There are occasions when staff will be faced with the most difficult of circumstances.
“Most of us have had relatives who have come through the mortuary and this is incredibly difficult,” Andrea said.
“We are a very close team and we will always support each other.”
Alongside helping prepare bodies for autopsy and carrying out manual work, all staff need to deal with grieving families.
“The technical staff also help out the bereavement officers to support the families,” Andrea said. “We can help with the practical issues and can explain the cause of death where possible.
“We actually undertake training courses with bereavement charity Hull Cruse.
“The way people deal with grief varies so much. We sometimes have people who come in laughing hysterically and joke around while others come in distraught and very emotional. We sometimes get those who are angry.”
The viewing room has calming decor and there are notes families can write which will be left with their departed loved ones.
Bereavement officer Stuart Cutts is the person families will see when they come in to view and identify loved ones.
“It can be very stressful dealing with people in the worst moment of their lives,” he said. “But helping them can prove very rewarding. Most families are just seeking some help and guidance.
“I left a job in A&E to work here and I don’t regret it.
“Only last week a family I dealt with invited me to the celebration of their loved one’s life. That really shows how important my job can be.”
The general hours at the mortuary are 8.30am to 4.30pm but there is a 24-hour call out in place, meaning staff can end up on their own in the centre.
“I end up being here on my own quite a lot,” Andrea says. “When we were in Spring Street people told use there were ghosts there. It was much older and a bit creepy.
“But it doesn’t bother me to be on my own around lots of dead people, I am more worried by those very much alive outside.”
Andrea and her staff also witness some of the most horrific scenes globally.
“I have been to the likes of Bosnia and Kosovo for the War Crimes Tribunal to recover bodies from mass graves,” she said.
“Some of our team are part of the UK Disaster Victim Identification Unit and cover major disasters such as the Manchester bombing Grenfell and the Tsunami in 2004.”
Andrea admits she and her staff can be overlooked but she says the job satisfaction they get is more than enough.
“We do get a few thank you cards,” she said. “Nurses and doctors are rightly appreciated but not many people really think of us here.
“At the end of the day, people may not realise it, but we are here to help the relatives, speed the process up and ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.
“We are also helping people find answers surrounding the death of a loved one so they can get closure.
“That is why we come to work every day. We are not doing it for the trust but for the families.”