A fairly busy day today, with two interesting jobs – I’ll tell you about one now, and the other I’ll save until tomorrow in case I don’t do anything fun.

For the first time in ages I got sent to a decomposing body.  Social housing people had been around the elderly gentlemans flat a week earlier, noticed a bit of a smell, but ignored it.  When they came back a week later and the smell was still there they decided to talk to the caretakers.  The caretakers beat down the door – looked at what was in the bedroom and called the police.

The police then passed the job on to us, so that we could confirm death.

The first thing that you notice when dealing with a ‘decomp’ is the smell, it’s quite unlike anything else – it settles in the back of the throat and stays there for some time.  I was sucking mints and drinking tea for some time after leaving the flat to try and get the taste out of my mouth.

The other thing is the flies.  You find yourself in a room with flies that have grown, and fed on the tissues of a dead person.  Sometimes they land on you.  For hours afterwards you can feel them crawling on your skin (I can still feel them now, about eight hours later).  It doesn’t make me feel dirty, but it does make me scratch.

The sight of the corpse isn’t too bad after all that.  The eyes are gone, and the skin is either dark brown or black.  The thing that makes you realise that the thing in front of you was once alive is the hair.  The hair is the same as when the person died, in this case it was white, clean and neatly brushed.  The entry points to the body (the eyes, the nose and mouth) are crawling with flies and maggots, and this is the only movement you’ll see.

The patient looked to have died in his sleep, he was laying in his bed and it looked like he had simply passed away without waking.  Not a bad way to go.

I can see this being my end, as I plan to outlive all my relatives, I don’t talk to my neighbours at the moment (because, in part, they don’t speak English) and at the rate I’m going I doubt I’ll be married.

I hope I make a really stinky corpse.  Perhaps making a young trainee EMT vomit in disgust, so that everyone at their station can have a good laugh at their expense.

38 thoughts on “Decomp”

  1. Thats about the best description of a “smellie” I have heard in years. :-)I'm in Northern Ireland, and have seen things over the years that would put any self respecting human off working with thier own kind for life. Strange though, that the one that made me chuck my dinner up – thankfully into a nearby sink, – and not over the body as a certain mate did (eh damien?) was a drug addict who had not been seen for 4 weeks. It was mid summer as well. (don't you just love the hot weather?)

    anyway, not only was she an addict, as we moved the body, it became obvious that she had been pregnant. and had given birth on the floor, god help the poor sods down at the hospital. all we could do was place the remains in a heavy duty bag. that was one that would not be re-used.

    I still get the shivers about that. but as my oul da used to say, “somebody has to do it”

    and the circle of life never ceases to amaze me, just 1 hour after cleanup from that job, I helped bring 2 little girls into this world outside a football ground during a cup final that proved to be too much for thier mother 🙂

  2. Just curious, but how do you confirm death?Can you get away with looking in the door and saying “Yep, he's dead”?

  3. ugh..really ughhh, but a great description, I could picture the scene perfectly, though thankfully not smell it.

  4. Once again you manage to eloquently describe something as poignant as death, in an informative, respectful and touching way. And your signature sprinkle of humour helps us to digest the issues your posts raise.Thank you Reynolds. Another great post.


  5. i know this smell very well….. walking along the beach, i smell, THAT smell….. and sure enough, around the corner…… was what turned out to be a young man, who'd been in the water for 3 weeks…… the watch he was wearing, was a swatch one….. it was correct to the minute

  6. re: not getting married – there's no age limit on shacking up, you know! My boss was very single until he was 48 and now he's getting married to a lady who's never been married either. They are DELIRIOUS about each other and it's great.

  7. I'm donated to medical science, so as long as I die nice and cleanly and of something normal, then there are no problems disposing of my body.Of course I may find out I'm terminally ill and decide to get a houseful of cats so they can finish me off when I die. That would be a 'fun' job for whoever eventually finds me…


  8. I feel itchy after reading that. Poor man – I hope he did go in his sleep. There was something rather lonely about your description of him lying there.

  9. In a case like that, or a decapitation or something similar then yes, a quick look around the corner and that'll do.If the person is 'just' dead then we conect them up to the monitor and verify that there is no activity in the heart.

    But anyone who has post-mortem staining (the blotchy purple stain caused by blood settling) is pretty much as dead as you can get.

  10. Hey Reynolds, I'll marry ya if you don't get any better offers. As long as you promise to wash the dead smell out of your hair!Merys

  11. Last month I had a six weeker (elderly male lying undiscovered for six weeks) – was my worst one yet (giving it the dry boak when we had to assist with the lift onto the mortuary wagons stretcher – the smell only gets worse when you move them – most undignified).Being polis we always had to have a doctor come and PLE but now the bosses have decided we don't have to in cases of obvious decomp/decap etc – oh the joy of autonomy.

  12. I had one of those that was very interesing. We were called out to a house where an elderly sibling was taking care of an even more ancient sister. The neighbors had not seen either of them for a while. We got there and the fire dept broke in a window and the smell poured out. We were expecting both to be gone, but it was the caretaker that had passed leaving the frail one without help. She ended up falling out of bed trying to conatct help and laying on the floor under her mattress for a couple of days. That didn't help the smell at all. She was amazingly still alive. I think that human tenacity is facinating….

  13. Had a cleaner do my whole flat from top to bottom once, all for a two-hour fee, as he was avoiding the next job which was cleaning up after a decomposed body. Don't blame him. And I wouldn't've kept my dinner down in your place.DTL said:

    I'm donated to medical science

    Wish I was. Can't find the contact details for the body farm in NSW (Australia). I'm sure there is one. Saw a thing about it a couple of years back on the telly.


  14. The sight of the corpse isnt too bad after all that. The eyes are gone

    Could someone explain why did the eyes disappear? Are they discomposed that fast?

  15. I remember one morning when I was on a day off and on the treadmill in the gym, one of these daytime progs was on. CSI Grimsby or something and they went to a decomp body. It was horrible to watch but I couldn't take my eyes off it.And like you I want to die in my sleep like my grandad did.

    And not screaming in terror like his passengers.

    (Dr Dre would like to appologise for this very old, but still funny joke)

  16. Usually when a body decomposes, it basically turns to liquid. The eyes disappear early on because they have a high liquid content to start with.For an excellent description of what happens to a body after death (wheather it be burial, cremation, donation to science etc) read Mary Roach's fine book “Stiff”. I can't recommend it highly enough.

  17. I hope the other “interesting job” was more appetising thoughDo you actually have a problem with the death (some medics say they get never used to it anyway) or don't you mind at all?

  18. that's exactly how my father died – he was a lonely, bitter, alcoholic with no friends, and his neighbours called the caretaker when the smell got too bad.when I got there (about 150 miles away, after a policeman knocked on my door), I asked about identification, and they carefully told me there wasn't really anything identifiable left.

    we didn't get on – he was a horrible, horrible man, and deserved to be friendless – but his end still haunts me, after almost 20 years.

  19. As far as I know there is no body farm type place in the UK that takes actual donations. I should end up at one of the London medical schools being taken apart for fun and profit by the trainee doctors of the future.They only seem to want you if you manage to die nice and cleanly, a heart attack or similar being prefered. The aim being to have as close to life normal a body as they can get. Except dead.


  20. As a Police Officer that quite often attends “sudden deaths” I can say that out of all the incidents I have gone to, only one has ever really played on my mind. The deceased in question had decided to take his own life, as a few weeks before, his fiance (who he was due to marry shortly) had been taken ill, and had died in hospital after suffering a brain haemorrage. The body itself was not distressing (dead people don't usually bother me), but it was the incredibly sad circumstances that made it stick in your mind. Still, in my job it's very easy to get very hard and unfeeling, and it at least proves that I'm still human…. (just!)PC Plod

  21. Also flies tend to lay their eggs in the soft, wet places, so the maggots eat those places first.

  22. Not really, obviously some things do play on your mind for a bit (kiddies mainly), but in the whole, I didn't know them when they were alive, so it's 'just another body'.

  23. now reynolds, wouldn't that kind of defeat the idea of my blog being kind of anonymous. Look what happens when you put your photo up, people recognise you!!Merys

  24. I'm in Australia. They take donations in America apparently. It was on a rather entertaining programme on here a few weeks ago. Crime Scene Academy or something.DTL wrote:

    They only seem to want you if you manage to die nice and cleanly

    I wonder if my local teaching hospital will take Death By Tequila.

  25. Great description. I suppose if we were in the pub together I'd now be telling you the one where were were called to search for a body in the woods. We found it sadly hanging from a tree and it had been there for quite some time. The young member who ran up to it thinking he was alive was a little shocked to find out the movement on the body was not him but mother nature doing her thing……Mark / or Central Beacons MRT

  26. … had it's smoke alarm doing the “beep once a minute 'cos I've got a flat battery” song for a few days (still doing it, actually – need to see about that). So I knocked on the guy's door. No answer. Thought little of it, try later.Tried later, tried a neighbour. Apparently the chap drinks a bit, and hasn't been seen for a few days. Ach well, try later.

    Tried next day. No response. Rang through to the concierge of the group of blocks of flats where I stay. “We'll try and get hold of him, no problem, thanks for letting us know.”

    Couple of days later, alarm still beeping.

    Couple of weeks later, alarm still beeping. Concierge and housing association have been hassled in the intervening time.

    Couple of weeks later, girl in a flat on the same floor notices an odd smell, rings Strathclyde's finest, who duly boot the door in (actually, it's been opened with no sign at all of forced entry, someone *must* have had keys). Blokey in the flat has been dead for about two months.

    You would not *believe* the number of home-helps and care workers swarming around the old people in these flats at the moment…

  27. it'll probably save them having to soak you in formalin for 6 months before they hand you over to the students…

  28. “I hope I make a really stinky corpse. Perhaps making a young trainee EMT vomit in disgust, so that everyone at their station can have a good laugh at their expense”I remember a nurses' station conversation on an orthopaedic ward where we all decided that we'd become pleasantly confused at 80, fracture a neck of femur and be sexually inappropriate with the male nurses/doctors/physios etc. Can't say we ever discussed how we'd eventually go though.

    I wasn't a ward nurse for very long before going into working in the community, but I still remember that death smell. And I remember some living patients having a “smell of death” about them as well, and knowing they didn't have long to go. I don't miss that at all *ick*.

  29. I don't think there is a body farm type place in the UK that takes actual donations. I should end up at one of the London medical schools being taken apart for fun and profit by the trainee doctors of the future. They only seem to want you if you manage to die nice and cleanly, a heart attack or similar being preferred. The aim being to have as close to life normal a body as they can get. Except dead.—beneficial association

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *