Before this past week, I wore masks to entertain myself. I found them fun and I liked the look and feel of most masks. The reasoning behind why I wear masks now is quite different from then. I work at a funeral home. I need to get 60 hours in before they can consider hiring me. I don't mind the work. I'm there to observe and do the things no one else wants to. Wash the hearse, sweep the back garage, that sort of thing.
Last Friday, I observed an embalming for the first time.
I noticed the smell before I noticed the body, he had been dead a day.
The man they were embalming was 86, and died of cancer. He had a large tumorous growth in his stomach, his skin was stretched taunt over his ribs. The report said he used to be a big man, but there was little left of him. They sprayed him with disinfectant, washed his mouth out, his nose and ears. And then, they made the first cut.
It was no big deal at first, when something graphic pops up, I tend to numb out, shut down my emotions for the ordeal, which I did. He looked for the jugular vein and the main artery in the neck. I forget what it's called. At any rate, he found the artery with no trouble, but he couldn't find the vein. He attempted to start the process, as that sometimes pressurizes the vein and makes it easier to find.
The man started to leak embalming fluid all over the embalming table. At the time, I didn't react. The man embalming, my boss, found the leak and winched it off. It was another artery, that he had ruptured while searching for the vein. He had to resort to use the main vein located in the leg for what he called "Drainage".
So the process went on, and after awhile, crimson blood flowed from the man's open leg wound. At one point I had to hold the dead man's leg up. His skin felt like a cool, smooth cloth.
There was something wrong, the pressure wasn't enough to drain properly. so my boss and an assistant started a procedure I don't quite understand. Soon they freed a clot from his neck the size of my thumb.
At that point, the blood really started to pour.
This is what struck me the most. Here were my co-workers. My friends. I knew they were good people. They each had a family of their own, they each had normal lives. And here they were, cutting into this man, not even dead a day, getting aggressive and forceful (I remember my boss tearing the leg wound wider with his fingers at one point) and yelling and cheering when he bled. At one point the blood came out in spurts, that image will never leave my mind.
I know its their job, I know they were trained to do it... But the change they went through to do that process... terrified me.
When I got home, I stared at myself long and hard in the mirror, and I was so disgusted at the fact that I had watched such a thing, so disgusted at myself... I couldn't stand to look at that face in the mirror another second.
Since then, I feel stomach sick without my mask. I feel anxious, and my face itches. I never want to go back to that building again, but I still have to finish 46 more hours of work.
So, now you know why I wear a mask.