In all my years as a small female funeral director, I can tout so many times that I have assisted with, or on my own, moved a deceased body from strange and compromising situations. Upstairs, downstairs, through narrow hallways, sliding in mud and slipping on ice, struggling to move ungiving weight from tangled, grabby bedsheets. I have always found a way though, never faltered, strained terribly yes, but always got the job done without injury to myself or the person I was charged with keeping safe. I have been applauded that my little frame held a remarkably strong and careful woman who has expertly handled herself in situations that defied the laws of, what is first assumed to be, my nature.
We received a call one day, it was an expected death, nothing out of the ordinary for a mortuary. A coworker and I drove to the address we were given. It was an apartment building, and we were instructed to go to the third floor where the family was waiting. I entered the apartment first to meet the family and make a plan of how to successfully transfer the deceased from the bed to our cot, through the apartment and then down the three flights to our waiting van. I surveyed the setting and noted all of the obstacles that we would need to negotiate, couches, end tables, lamps, those sorts of things. Our best way down with a cot were the stairs, they were steep and concrete and narrow and would be difficult to maneuver, but nothing more treacherous or challenging than anything I had handled before. I retrieved my coworker and we started the process of moving the woman into our care. We carefully wrapped her in a clean sheet and then gently slid her onto our cot. We gave the family a precious moment before heading towards the narrow, hardened concrete stairwell. The woman was survived by a sister who wanted to be present for the process. This is something we usually don’t discourage, it is a family members’ right to help in moving someone they love. It can be cumbersome however, when a new set of hands start dictating what the professionals know to work better. We explained to the sister how narrow the stairwell was and it would be safer if we did the job on our own and she could meet us in the parking lot to help at that end. She thankfully agreed, and we entered the concrete maw of the evil snaky stairwell.
Anyone who has moved furniture down a flight of stairs can understand the push-me, pull-you Tango dance it requires to get down those steps with the furniture and your limbs intact and uninjured. Well, this is the struggle we faced at this moment. My coworker was ahead of me and setting the pace, which was faster than my careful strides could bear while carrying my end of the load. “Take it slow”, “Don’t rush”, “You’re going to fast”, “Slow down!” were my cries as the serpentine stairwell gulped us down it’s throat. We were getting to our destination when suddenly the momentum and my careful steps went out of sync and right then, without warning, my coworker stopped to round the bend of the next landing jarring my already rickety footwork and strained handhold of the cot handle. Before I knew it, my grasp failed completely! The handle I had been holding turned into an arm of steel claws and wrenched it’s bolts down my shin only stopping to pin my foot to the stair step I was currently standing on. This all happened so abruptly that I completely lost my balance. My quick reflexes grabbed at the hand railing, I missed it by millimeters and I pitched forward face-first, without my hands to break the fall, I awkwardly landed on top of the dead woman! My foot still pinned, my shin in tatters and my pride shredded and throbbing like the nerves in my leg.
I was given a minute of respite before I heard the question “Are you okay?” “Do I look like I am okay damnit!?” Was the screamy response my brain shouted inside my head, but of course, the situation called for something more professional. So, I quickly stood, laughed it off, gulped my pride and blinked back the haze filming my eyes, grabbed my end of the cot and continued to hobble and strain down the rest of the staircase to the waiting sister and our van. Refusing to look down at what I imagined to be a blood soaked and tattered pant leg, I left my coworker to get the cot into the back of our van by himself while I tried not to limp or wince, creating a fantastic, straight backed, hopefully professional demeanor, while hugging the woman goodbye and reassuring her that her sister was well taken care of and confirming the time she would be coming to the mortuary the next day for arrangements.
With stoic pride and elegance, I pulled myself into the passenger side of the van and kept smiling while waving goodbye to the woman who, thankfully, had no idea about the incident that had just occurred. As soon as we were on the road I pulled up my pantleg which was somehow dry and undamaged, and it seemed my stocking had worked as an absorbent, holding in place tiny droplets of now dried blood. As I carefully peeled down my stocking, which pulled off each dried bead, it sprang forth fresh bright crimson drops to trickle down the quickly bruising wound. I hadn’t decided how to handle the situation yet, so I didn’t say much in the way of words just gave a crazy, maniacal laugh as I imagined myself folded over kissing the belly of an occupied cot with my foot stuck under its handle. I couldn’t stop laughing like a demented hyena yet, inside my head was a tear streaked sobbing mess of a girl, not knowing whether I was ever going to walk normally again. I think this feeling is what people refer to when announcing that someone has cracked! We arrived back at the funeral home. Walking was just as difficult as I had imagined, and of course the rendition of my superb comedic performance had to be told and then repeated over again. Oh, the woes of the grotesquely injured.
It took almost two months for the goose eggs, yes eggs! to stop throbbing every minute I wore my stockings. And every time I took a minute to change the dressing of my injury and relive the day that I toppled over a dead woman, I made sure my coworker saw at it as well, laughing again at the image of me tipped over uncomfortably and hopefully reminding him that the seconds he may have saved by being impatient had caused weeks of agony for me.
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