5 Horrific Things You See Collecting Dead People as a Job
Of all the wacky ways to make money, I chose perhaps the wackiest. I transported dead bodies from point-of-death to the morgue for autopsies (and perhaps an inappropriate puppet show or two). Rich or poor, famous or anonymous, all were equal when slumming it in the back of my corpse wagon. I lasted two weeks -- not long enough to encounter any dormant Highlanders or angry zombies, but long enough to be considered a crusty old veteran. The average body transporter quits that fast. Here's why ...
Transporting Corpses Is a Shady Business
While there are technically rules concerning who can do the job (to weed out necrophiliacs and closeted vampires), they're rarely enforced. They'll pretty much hire anybody. Convicted felons, drug addicts, drug pushers, me -- if you breathe, you qualify to chauffeur those who no longer do. And the hiring practices are less than thorough. My interview (in a parking lot) consisted of two questions: "Got a driver's license?" and "You don't think you'll have a problem with dead bodies?" Less than a day later, I had the job. After two quick training runs, I was deemed worthy to deal with death on my lonesome.
At least the only people there to see you make rookie mistakes are long past giving a shit.
I never even met my boss. All I knew was a disembodied voice that called and said, "We've got one at X," then abruptly hung up. Ghost Boss would call a lot, and at any time of day. Lack of regulation meant we were on call 24/7, with no limit on how much they could make us work. There were times I'd drive for 15 hours, come home, take a five-minute teaser-nap, and then Ghost Boss would send me on another 15-hour trek. All of this netted me a cool $9 per hour.
Which means your beloved grandmother was worth less than a meal at Chili's.
Our vans were old, battered, and dirty. They were under a permanent Amber Alert just on general principle. My windshield had a huge crack running the entire length, the transmission was dangling by a thread, the engine would continue to run after you took the key out, and you had to punch the dashboard if you wanted the wipers to work. I was actually pulled over by the cops on my last run because I had no light over the license plate. It hadn't gone out or anything -- it just wasn't there.
The inside of the van was even worse -- filthy, rusted out, and filled with discarded rubber gloves, dirty clothes, and blood-stained towels. This is where your loved ones go. On the other hand, I never heard any of them complain and would have run like hell if I did.
Some Morgues Are Disorganized, Filthy Places
The morgues that I saw were chaotic and nasty places. And while that's fine for a teenager's bedroom, it causes problems in the designated corpse hangout. Take the time my trainer-type-guy and I did a late-night pickup -- once we got to the morgue and stuck the deceased in the cooler, we started looking for a hand towel to wipe up some fluid that had spilled on a gurney. He found a lidless cardboard box that looked to be filled with them. He picked up the top towel, only to find -- oh yes -- a baby.
A dead baby.
And just like that, my job turned into an eighth-grader's awful comedy routine.
We bolted immediately, wet gurney be damned. I never found out if they did anything with the baby, like, you know, send it back for a proper burial so the place wouldn't be haunted by a tiny ghost. Hopefully they've at least remembered it's there by now.
There's a Lot of Slapstick Comedy in Transporting the Dead
Every pickup had the potential for slips, trips, falls, lost equipment, lost bodies, and other morbid shenanigans, like an especially dark episode of The Three Stooges. One night, I was wheeling a corpse away, slipped in the snow, and damn near lost the body. If I hadn't caught the gurney last-second, it would've gone careening down a hill and into a snow bank, corpse all stuck in headfirst with the feet jutting straight out like a cartoon character. A nearby nurse, who used to transport bodies, told me not to feel bad about that, because she saw it happen all the time.
"Just make sure it's a mistake; the hospital big-wigs don't let us race 'em anymore."
Then there was the time I picked up the big brother of Frankenstein's monster. Though, in truth, I didn't "pick him up" so much as I desperately pulled and tugged like the Olympic strongman that I am not. I got him to the morgue no problem, but while taking him out of the van, the gurney's wheels failed to lock -- the whole thing immediately collapsed under his ample weight. I was able to lift and lock the wheels under his feet, but there was no way I could move the other end even a centimeter. Naturally -- and despite being buckled in -- he slid to the floor.
So now I had a defective gurney, a mountain of dead man that I couldn't budge, and a long, long hallway standing between me and the cooling room. I eventually accepted that the only solution was to drag his ass there. But before I could even start, a pool of horrific-smelling fluid started spilling from the body bag. Consumed with equal parts panic and disgust, I stepped into Lake Eerie, slipped, and nearly fell on the body. Luckily for my nerves, a nurse finally took pity on me and helped out by steadying the feet end of the gurney for me. I heaved with everything I had and finally got the body back where it needed to be.
Just imagine how hard it is to get someone to help you move a couch, except in this case
the couch is 200 pounds and leaking ... stuff. Unexpected help is kinda rare.
The trek down the hallway was shockingly disaster-free, but once inside the cooling room, the entire goddamn gurney tipped over. All of the available refrigeration units were too high up. So I did what any professional would -- I gave the fuck up. I simply unbuckled Andre the Giant Corpse, let him roll to the floor, and slapped a Post-It note on his chest: "Sorry, too heavy to lift by myself. Thanks."
You thought the passive-aggressive Post-Its your roommate leaves on the milk carton were bad ...
Yes, of Course It's Disgusting
The stench of a decomposing body is one I will never, ever forget. It permeates everything, even when the body is properly stored and refrigerated. And that, sadly, doesn't always happen. A girl was murdered, and I couldn't get her for four days thanks to a major snowstorm shutting down the roads. Hospital officials were ecstatic to see me when I finally arrived, and I soon learned why -- their version of "storing a body" was to stuff the poor girl into a broom closet six feet from the receptionists' area. A non-refrigerated closet. FOR FOUR DAYS. If there had been anything in my stomach, it would've gotten an eviction notice.
Skipping breakfast is kind of a given when your day's to-do list involves the phrase "week-old corpse."
There were disgusting sounds, too. The guy who sorta-trained me said that, during one of his runs, the corpse let out a low, guttural moan -- the result of carbon-dioxide buildup in the lungs. It sounded like a zombie rising up for a heaping plate of Brains Benedict, but in reality the screaming undead are just another day at the office for this job.
Presumably, "9 to 5" was playing as he casually ignored the moaning, restless dead.
But, of course, it's not just the smells and sounds -- the sights are pretty awful too. Sometimes, I'd drive the dead bodies to medical centers for organ donation, where I saw an array of lovely things, such as rib cages being cracked open to get at the precious innards like a terrifying Kinder Surprise. The worst was skin donation. Did you know that skin is typically harvested from the neck down, so the body can still appear clean and untouched for an open-casket funeral? That's right, if your loved one was an organ donor, at their funeral they might be rockin' the Hellraiser beneath their Sunday best.
The Body Isn't Always Dead When You Arrive
A co-worker mentioned that, on several occasions, he had gotten calls to pick up a body that hadn't officially become dead yet. They were usually on a respirator or some other type of life support and weren't expected to last much longer. So there he was, just hanging around the lobby, sipping coffee and patiently waiting for his cargo to be ready. If you're ever in that situation and some visitor who wants to make small-talk asks what you do for a living, learn how to lie.
"I'm a courier of the ... bread."
An even more unsettling situation took place fairly recently. Two locals were in a terrible accident. The local news reported that they were killed instantly, except that wasn't true. I worked with the guy who ended up transporting them to the morgue, and they weren't dead when he showed up. They weren't exactly up and dancing, but their hearts were still beating and they were both breathing. Their injuries were too severe to survive, however, which is why they called for a transporter.
Worse still -- they held on forever. It was a painfully long wait before they died, meaning the transporter had time to make a sort of emotional connection to them. He even attended their funerals after they finally passed. Making a connection is perhaps the worst thing you can do when working around death. The more distance you keep between yourself and the "cargo," the easier it is to just load them up, send them to the cooler, and move on to the next chunk of flesh. It's not a pretty way to think, but then, it's not a pretty business. Hey, that's why they pay you the big bucks to do it.
All nine of them.
Jason corpses on both Facebook and Twitter.
For more insider perspectives, check out The 6 Strangest Things Nobody Tells You About Life in Korea and 5 Things You Only Know If You Grew Up in a Communist Regime.
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