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I'm a Funeral Services graduate embarking on a new career. I graduated high school in 1981, served honorably in the United States Navy from 1982-1986, been married since 1986, and have one son. I've relocated to a new state and have begun working in my chosen profession of Funeral Services, and I've never been happier.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Preparing The Autopsied Body

In a very early post, I gave a thorough description of how to embalm a body. This post will describe how to embalm a body that has been autopsied, or "posted" (from "post-mortem"), as we refer to it in the industry. As you may know from watching the various forensic shows, both fictional and true-life, the body is opened by making an incision from each shoulder down to the center of the chest, then from the center of the chest to the groin. This is called the "Y" incision, because it looks exactly like the letter Y.

In a full autopsy, all of the internal organs, as well as the brain, will be removed and examined. When the autopsy is completed, and the organs have been examined, they are placed in a plastic bag, which is placed in the body cavity. The calvarium (top part of the skull) is placed back in position, and the scalp pulled back down into place to hold the calvarium in place. The body is then sutured closed with a few very large (about 8" to 12" long) sutures. When the funeral home receives the body, one of the first things to be done is to clean the top of the skull. The way we do it is to wash it thoroughly, dry it off then treat it with a drying powder, which absorbs any residual blood and/or moisture from the bony material. Then we remove the viscera bag, open it up and pour a bottle of cavity fluid in. We then take the trocar, a sharp, hollow tube, and puncture the organs to permit the cavity fluid to work on the insides of the organs. We then close the bag and set it aside for the time being. We take the chest plate (that part of the ribcage and sternum the pathologist cut away to gain access to the chest cavity) and cover it with a powdered formaldehyde, called para-formaldehyde, and set that aside.

We then locate all the major vessels and inject each limb with the embalming solution. We inject the left and right legs through the femoral arteries, the left and right arms through the sub-clavian arteries, and we inject the head through the left and right carotid arteries. Once we have injected the limbs, we then treat the torso. Remember that the torso has been laid wide open due to the "Y" incision. The flaps of skin that fold back to expose the body cavity are about an inch or so thick, full of fatty tissue. The embalmer uses a special trocar to deliver fluids to as much of these flaps as possible. The trocar is inserted into this tissue to various lengths while embalming fluid flows through the trocar and into the tissues. The embalmer works the entire torso in this manner, delivering fluid to as much of the tissue as possible. He also injects any soft tissues on the inside of the body cavity, again, trying to reach as many areas of the torsal tissue as possible.

While one person is treating the torso, we usually have a second person working on the head. The skull cavity is cleaned and dried, sprinkled with paraformaldehyde or other moisture-absorbing materials, then packed with cotton. Then the calvarium is put back into position and secured to the skull with devices known as calvarium clamps. These are metal clamps which hold the calvarium firmly in place. The scalp is pulled back down over the top of the skull and sutured closed. Sometimes we use a fine black thread, or if the person has a very thick head of hair, we will just use regular wax string.

Once the body has been hypodermically injected, we vaccuum out as much excess fluid as possible from the cavity. The cavity itself is then treated with a solution to dry up excess moisture and sear the tissues. We use a product called Dryene. We then sprinkle some para-formaldehyde into the body cavity, then place the viscera (internal organs) back into the cavity. As I mentioned in yet another post, some embalmers simply place the bag in the cavity and suture the body shut. However, my bosses prefer to actually remove the viscera from the bag and place them back in the body. The reason for this is we will put a few organs in, sprinkle the para-formaldehyde, put more organs in, sprinkle more para-formaldehyde, etc. until all the viscera have been placed in the body. This way we can be sure all the organs have been effectively treated. Somebody asked me once if we had to put the organs back in their proper place. No, we just want everything back in the body, we don't care what goes where. We then suture the body closed, which is very time consuming due to the large number of stitches required. We then bathe the body, then lay down a layer of glue on top of the sutures, then cover the sutures with a layer of cotton strips. Most, if not all, funeral homes will charge an extra fee for preparing a body that has been autopsied; now you know why. This process can take two embalmers working together anywhere from two to four hours to complete, depending on the condition of the body and other factors.


Blogger Dirty Butter said...

I guess CSI has desensitized me to what you're describing, but I find this fascinating. It really does sound a whole lot like what the Egyptians did, doesn't it?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Granimore said...

We studied the ancient Egyptians in detail while in school. Their beliefs were that the body would one day be physically reunited with the soul, so they did their best to keep it prepared to be used again.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous MortiBelle said...

Hey I found your blog really informative. I'm a licensed funeral director in N.Y. but all the posts get sent to trade so I never really embalmed a post. But what about the circle of Willis? I'm not sure if you mentioned that it had to be clamped while injecting to the head.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Granimore said...

No, I didn't mention how you have to clamp vessels in the cranial cavity. I honestly didn't think about it, but just so others will know: when you inject the carotid artery upward toward the head to embalm the face, fluid usually comes spraying out of arterioles inside the skull cavity, and you have to clamp them off to prevent further leakage. It can be quite messy.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Jerome said...

You can just hold them with your fingers while injecting.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tissue Gas!!!!!!! The smell of Champions.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jerome, forceps do a better job. Tell your boss not to be so freaking cheap.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Kathryn (UK) said...

No matter how time consuming, an attempt should be made to place the organs back in the post body, in their correct order (assuming of course one knows the correct order).

If it was my post-loved-one or relative, I would hate to think that their organs were plopped back into open cavity in any old order (such as intestines where the heart would have been) just to get the job done quicker. I don't believe for a minute that anybody would

Perhaps the funeral business is far less commercial, and more humane in the UK....

9:10 AM  
Anonymous txfuneralguy33 said...

I really enjoyed your post and found it extremely informative as I am just starting my classes in embalming at school. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Granimore said...

Thanks for reading and commenting,TXfuneraguy! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to write and ask. Good luck with your embalming practicums. Since your handle starts with TX, I'm assuming you're at Gupton.

Thank you, Kathryn, as well. I appreciate your comments, and while I can appreciate your thoughts on proper positioning of the viscera, when you're working in a room full of cavity fluid fumes (even with the vent fans running) time is of the essence to get those in the cavity and finish your suturing quickly.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think once you experienced this you will change your mind's just not that easy

Before you assume experience

4:54 PM  
Blogger Dan Fisher said...

If you can look at posted viscera, which are sliced into sections for inspection by the M.E. as well as partially decomposed, and tell the difference between a piece of kidney, liver, heart, etc.. Feel free to then try to re-arrange them in their correct anatomical positions!

4:20 AM  
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7:52 AM  

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