By Aline Duchene
“Many caregivers are not comfortable with the dead…I’m not saying I like the dead, but they don’t bother me. I can live among them”, begins Alexandra Lamaix, nurse’s aide at the mortuary chamber of the CHRU of Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle).
Aged 44, she agreed to explain to Lorraine News his journey and talk about his work like no other.
“I know people are uncomfortable”
Often these are the same thoughts who fall when Alexandra describes her work: “I don’t know how you do it, aren’t you afraid? “But, each time, the caregiver stays straight in her boots.
Death in France, in 2022, is super taboo. We work with dead people all day, so we have to talk about it among colleagues. It’s important to know that tomorrow, everything can stop. But I know that people are uncomfortable with that, they think that we are “smashed lemon” to work there. I think that on the contrary, someone who is not stable would not bear to work in the mortuary chamber, you have to be very balanced.
However, she admits that the mortuary chamber is a “peculiar world”where bodies are “not always beautiful or clean”.
A click in the mortuary
If today she loves her work, Alexandra has not always worked with the deceased. She spent a long part of her career in emergency room. But after 20 years at the central hospital in Nancy, she could no longer find herself there.
Operation of the service, stress, flow of people to treat, it was the steamroller. “I could no longer take care of people the way I wanted. We are carers because we have this kind of ‘maternal’ fiber, we reach out to people. And in the emergency room, we can’t do that anymore… And it’s super frustrating! “, she laments.
Then there is this road accident, in 2018. Alexandra is working when two children die in the emergency room from their injuries. They are sent to the burial chamber. But the caregiver realizes that the bag of one of the children has remained in the emergency room. So she takes him back to the morgue.
There, she comes across the nurse’s aide who is preparing a lady. And when Alexandra speaks to this carer, it clicks: “In twenty minutes, his job blew me away. He is there, he has time to take care of this lady and pay attention to her,” she recalls.
From there, it “runs” through Alexandra’s head, who thinks of the burial chamber as a “benevolent” place where “one remains in the care”. She ends up realizing that the emergencies are over for her.
“We speak to the dead as well as to the living”
Six months after leaving the bag in the mortuary room, Alexandra decides to do a “discovery day” in this service that had marked her so much. When she returns home after her observation dayshe decides to leave the emergency room and the world of “alive” patients.
That’s how the April 1, 2019Alexandra joined the CHRU mortuary team.
In this service, she works alongside six other caregivers and a head nurse. A typical day for Alexandra? She looks at the entrances of the night, in other words the bodies that have been deposited by the stretcher-bearers in the low-temperature room during her absence.
Then, Alexandra and her colleagues sew up the wounds of the bodies and seal certain parts of the body. ” We call that ” cork »we put cotton in the nose and in the mouth, because when a body is dead, the muscles no longer retain anything, ”she describes.
While performing these gestures, Alexandra speak with the dead, as she did in the emergency room with her living patients: “We send messages from loved ones, we speak to them as to the living, we have a protective side. »
“In the mortuary room, the crash has passed”
Then, the caregivers prepare the deceased, by styling them and in shaving them for example. The goal: to make them presentable for visiting families.
When we receive families, that’s where we have contact with the living. In the emergency room, when a death is announced, it is abrupt for the relatives, it has just happened, people break down and cry. When they come to the mortuary, the noise is over, they thank us for taking the time to stay with them. With us, we can explain the rest, the coffining and the day of the ceremony.
And when we ask Alexandra if it’s not too hard to be grieving daily, she replies, “It’s my job. Compassion, empathy… I couldn’t have any more if I went home with everyone crying. When we are health professionals, we are used to it. »
Violent deaths, homicides, suicides or road accidents
The other part of Alexandra’s work: the autopsies and body examinations, in cases of violent death, homicide, suicide, or road accident.
In Brabois, professionals from the forensic institute carry out autopsies in Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle and Vosges. For each autopsy, two senior doctors are present, accompanied by interns, externs, and two nursing assistants.
For Alexandra, an autopsy is first a lot of administration. She works in conjunction with the justice system and the police to recover the necessary documents. Then, she welcomes the body, checks the seals and the identity of the deceased and installs it in the autopsy room.
“Death has a smell that sticks to your skin, it’s like nothing else”
Then, the doctors open the body, at the level of the arms, the belly or the legs. “When you open, you see things that are invisible on the surface. Hematomas, for example, leave traces under the skin,” explains Alexandra. All organs are checked and weighed.
Also, the doctor performs a complete opening of the head to observe the brain. The goal ? Look for the causes of death. As a nurse’s aide, Alexandra assists the doctor during the autopsy. On average, she achieves about two a day.
“Death has a smell that sticks to your skin, it’s like nothing else,” explains Alexandra, who must shower and change several timessometimes, so that the smell of autopsies goes away completely.
“I can’t wait to get back to work”
In January 2022, Alexandra learns that she has a breast cancer. A news that forces him to leave work to the mortuary last February to carry out his care.
Always off, she should resume his post next March. But this does not mean that she has deserted Brabois. “I regularly go to see my colleagues, it’s an exceptional team and I find the time long,” she describes.
And while the cancer has questioned everything in her life, she is now certain of one thing: she will never leave her post in the mortuary chamber: “I like the morgue, I can’t wait to get back to my job”, she confides , always with the same smile on his face.
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