Episode 194 S5-31
Dealing with Dead Bodies
Dark Days in Denver Ch 31
Working as a Chief Deputy Coroner, Skip Buck has experienced over 500 autopsies. In a coroner's office, an individual sees a lot of death. Plus, he has been on sit and witnessed death there as well. He was responsible for viewing, removing, photographing and being present at the autopsy of the deceased.
Most of us have only experienced death in a very clinical setting when the body is sterilize, as was the case for Skip when he started. Receiving the job as the Chief Deputy Coroner, Skip entered a world of dealing with the dead, including taking samples with a large needle from various organs of the deceased to determine the cause of death.
Witnessing an individual who has just died is a stomach-turning event, and it only gets worse as time ticks on. The body will start to decompose within fifteen minutes and will begin to normalize itself to the surrounding temperature. This process can be accelerated or decelerated in hotter or colder climates. The skin of the body will look pale and waxy, like a wax figure.
Approximately four hours after death, the body will have reached the surrounding temperature, and postmortem lividity will start to happen. The blood begins to pool in the lower half due to gravity's pull. These areas will turn a purple/bluish color. Also, the body will experience pressure blanching on the upper side. Any areas of the body that were in contact with an object as the person began to decompose will be blanched white and not be the same pale color as the rest of the skin.
In twelve to twenty-four hours rigor mortis starts to set in. Rigor mortis causes the body, especially the limbs, to become stiff and hard to move. To bend an extremity, after rigor mortis has set in, you literally have to break the rigor, and the muscles will make a popping sound as you do so. At this time, the organs begin to deteriorate as well. This breakdown creates the most horrible stench you have ever experienced. The organs turn to gel, and then they turn to liquid. At this point, they begin to seep out the orifices of the body, including the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the bowels, and the bladder. The body will fill with gas until it bursts open. If you get the juice from the body on your clothing or boots, there is no way to get the smell out.
In today's sterilized first world countries, bodies may not pose too much of a threat. However, if society were to experience a long term disaster scenario, this would not be the case. Insects and animals will rapidly descend upon the dead. Insects carry disease and would quickly infest the survivors as well. It may be possible to move the community if there is a significant number of bodies or they can be buried or cremated. Whatever action your group takes, do it fast! The insects carry bacteria, and cremation may spread a disease to the survivors. The more bodies there are, the more potential for harm there is to the living.
You should always wear protective clothing when handling the dead. At the bare minimum your eyes, nose, mouth, and hands should be covered. If possible, you should have boot covers or a containment suit. A purge mask is also highly recommended.
Respect for the dead is what sets humans apart from animals. If it is not too long into the disaster scenario, there will still be a good deal of respect paid to them. You can mark their burial location with a placard. However, as the disaster time lengthens these formalities may fall to the weigh side.
Currently, the country coroner or coroner's bureau is responsible for handling the dead. Initially, in a disaster scenario, the coroner and law enforcement will continue to take care of the deceased. However, as time lengthens cities may call for outside help and then individuals will have to become responsible for their communities.
Communities will have to weight the needs of the survivors against the needs of the dead. Survivors will be struggling to maintain their own lives. Thus, respect for the dead may seem like a pointless activity. There may not be enough fuel to do a cremation. There may not be adequate human resources or diesel to put into machines for digging mass graves. Mass graves are extremely arduous to build. However, there is a technique that uses the same principle as a Dakota fire. Stack the bodies with combustible material. Adjoining holes are dug to feed the fire around the bodies, and a ventilation tube is necessary to keep the fire burning. Bodies require a scorching fire to burn. The liquid and fat will put the fire out. Do not be downwind from the smoke as it could carry infectious diseases with it. Alternately, if you are by a river, you could float the bodies downstream. However, it won't be a very good day for those relying on the water downstream.
Mismanagement of the dead could be detrimental to society. The more and more bodies that pile up the more disease will spread. The stockpiling of bodies will attract billions of insects that carry disease. If it is an event that lasts for six months to a year and then returns to a somewhat normal state, survivors will be looking for their loved ones. You could try to document bodies in mass graves, but all of this will be a challenge. The bodies may also contaminate the groundwater and soil. As time passes and soil erosion happens, mass graves may become exposed.
There are some chemicals you could stock for disinfecting and maybe preserving a body. You need powerful chemicals! Bleach or a similar solvent is great. However, they pose an inhalation threat to survivors. Lye will get rid of a body and reduces insect activity. You could carry syringes for removing the body fluids, but you would need an embalming fluid for preservation, which is not available commercially. Remember that bodies can move as fluids are removed and replaced. This movement can also happen during cremation. The body goes into a pugilistic post, and the skull may explode. Any disinfectant is better than nothing so stock up now.
You will have to continually weight the needs of the survivors to that of the dead. It takes a lot of fuel to burn a body. You can use toxic items, like rubber, that burn hot to assist you, but those things are toxic and pose a threat as well.
In the winter you don't just want to throw the body out into the snow to wait for spring. Animals will still find it. If possible, you want to wrap it up in plastic to cover the smell. Then put it deep in the snow or in a shed that can be locked.
Once you smell a dead body, you will forever know the smell, making it easier for you to judge the riskiness of a situation.
Featured Quote From Today's Chapter:
"He saw death on this scale before, right after the Great Quake. The images he never wanted to remember flooded back to him."