Mortuary | Anatomical Pathology Technologists

Matt and Marie

What is your role?
Matt: “I am an anatomical pathology technologist which means I help perform post-mortems, assisting a pathologist, and attempting to understand the cause of someone’s death. I also help with the day-to-day running of the mortuary, record samples, specimens and so on and spend a lot of time liaising with family members.”

Marie: “I am the mortuary manager. That means I look after the running of the department, which has five technical staff, one full-time secretary and one part-time support worker. We will perform up to six post-mortems a day and handle around 3,500 deaths every year.”

Why did you want to do this job?
Matt: “I’m the same with the anatomy. Everything in life needs a power source or a battery but the body is doing these unbelievably clever, complex things – fixing itself and changing and growing – seemingly without any power. I just never get tired of learning more and more about the body, of seeing it up close, which I understand we are in a privileged position to see. No matter what you believe about why we are here, the body is just the most amazing thing.”

Marie: “I just love anatomy, love the study of the body, love seeing how it all works. There are less than 1,000 of us working across the country so our jobs are very rare in that respect. We get to do a job which everyone is interested in but no one more than me.”

“We get to help people who are going through some of the strongest emotions there are and we get to be part of a close team which helps each other deal with the emotional aspects of the job.”

What do you like about working at Derby Teaching Hospitals in particular?
Matt: “I could never see myself leaving the NHS, not here in Derby. It’s such a good hospital, the people are so welcoming and all the time I’m out in the rest of it, walking around, I see people I have known for years. That really makes a difference to how you feel about work. I’ve been here 18 years, Marie has been here 25 years: people tend to stay at Derby. It’s not the case everywhere.”

Marie: “I think it’s the understanding between staff here. Because of the nature of our job, there is a real emotional toll; it’s a balance you have to work had to get right. But I can tell if it’s getting to someone and we can talk to each other. Plus there’s an odd sense of humour you probably have to have here. Maybe it’s because we don’t see as many live people down here that we get that insular sense but, either way, we really bounce off each other, having the same sense of humour. It’s just another reason I love my job.”

Why did you decide to take part in the programme?
Marie: “For me it was educating the public as to what really happens in a department like this. It is shrouded in secrecy and that is maybe because people don’t know – or don’t want to know – what happens when you die so they don’t talk about it and show curiosity. But it is inevitable, it will happen to all of us and I wanted people to see that we’re not just wheeling bodies around down here.

“You see so many things in the media representing nursing but this programme may well be the first to show a real modern mortuary in action. That is important to us. A lot of people think you can walk into this job, that things are still somewhere around the Burke and Hare standard. But this is a specialist role with a lot of very unique skills and challenges.”

Matt: “People definitely have this idea of a mortuary as a dark, cold place, with the wind whistling around, maybe bats or something. But you can see in this programme that it’s not like that. Families come down here and they are surprised by how light and welcoming it all is. We can show, through this programme, how committed we are to helping families. This is a 24-hour service, we’re always on call and that can be for anything; can be just to talk to family members or friends.

“You get to a point with the job where you think, ‘I love this job but I want to give something back. I want people to see that this is a job which can be really enjoyed’.

How was it working with the camera and crew?
Marie: “It was a little bit like an invasion. Like I say, we can be a little insular down here, with a small team, and to suddenly have a crew and cameras was quite different. They say it will be a fly-on-the-wall thing but that’s quite a big fly. But we were clear with them that we wanted what they captured to be the truth, we want to be transparent to the public but at the same time we had to work hard to make sure that anybody who was featured was fully comfortable.

“My biggest fear as mortuary manager would be misrepresentation or in some way upsetting patients. We feel the care in this hospital carries on at a high level after a death on a ward. So we worked closely with the crew to make sure that whatever they did fit in with relatives’ wishes.”

How do you think viewers will react to the programme – especially the parts you appear in?
Marie: “I think, first of all, it will be the first time people will really have seen inside a mortuary so it will be interesting for them. I’m looking forward to people I know seeing what I do. What we do is so unique and specialised you feel sometimes it is hard for anyone who doesn’t do the job to really understand. My husband is very proud of what I do but if I start talking about particular things he’ll be like, ‘oh, how can you do that job?’

I also hope people see that we have a really comforting, welcoming place here, with friendly staff who have a lot for time for people. I hope maybe it makes people a little less nervous about mortuaries.”

Matt: “One of the real challenges of the job is the variety of different emotions you see from people who come down to the mortuary. Family members, friends, relatives: this is often the most distressing thing they will have done, coming down here. They can have all sorts of emotions about what might have happened to their loved one, they are vulnerable and scared or sometimes angry. Each person is different and you learn to be able to comfort them all. But you also have a job to do and people often think that their family members’ death is the only one that day; it’s just not the case so I hope this programme will show how much work goes on down here and fill people in about the whole process.”

What are the moments you’ll remember from the experience?
Matt: “Well, at the time we were involved in the process, my wife Sally and I had just found out we were expecting a baby. The producer found out about this and was straight away all ‘oh, we have to get this in somehow’. He could see the whole birth-and-death thing and I agreed, really. There’s a lot of death in what I do but a hospital is a place of life as much as it is death. I thought it would be great so we filmed Sally going for a scan. Then we filmed it again and I had to be surprised again. And then maybe once more. But it was worth it, it was a great way of showing the life of the hospital.”