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By Amanda Harper
In Chris Byram’s line of work a sense of humour is vital.
My job basically is the day to day management and running of a modern day mortuary. Naturally with death being so unpredictable, we are on call to the hospital and to the coroner all day depending on what circumstances prevail. We're asked to come in and do whatever work is required.
It’s surprising how many people have morbid curiosity. Everybody’s got morbid curiosity, but it’s a different matter when they see it though.
Coming over from England to here one of the biggest things that did strike me was dealing with the cultures. Back in England the cultural aspect in dealing with death wasn’t as heavy but over here it plays a big part – a very big part. Learning to respect other people’s cultures, learning how to respect their needs and wants in a time of crisis and time of bereavement. Being strong for them, being able to control yourself and your emotions - for yourself and for the other people.
I’ll always remember my first day – the head technician when he took me into the PM room. He put a knife in my hand and asked me “have you ever stabbed anyone before?” It seemed like a daft question. I looked at him and went ‘NO!?’
But he said that just to see what my reaction would be. So there was a bit of psychology behind there that you don’t think of it at the time. If I’d have said “yeeeeah” with a slathering look in my eye he would have taken the knife and said “get out we don’t want you in here”.
Tell you the truth, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to be. I suppose when you’re little you always want to be a fireman or a train driver.
When you think about it now, since 1981, I’ve probably been dealing with death more than I’ve dealt with life. You’ve got to be able to balance that out. You’ve got to allow a pressure outlet, and it’s usually humour.
" You’ve got to have a good sense of humour to defuse the dire situation"There's no point coming in here like a plank. You’ve got to have a good sense of humour to defuse the dire situation.
Like, back in the UK. They’ve stopped this now, they can’t do it any more, but the sergeant (from the local cops) would ring up first and say to us “we’ve got 20 cadets coming up, get ready for them”.
In that time things weren’t as politically correct as they are now.
So, one of the technicians would lie on a tray with a tag around his toe and we would put a sheet over the body and we would push him into the fridge.
Sergeant would come in and say, “now then, always remember, when a dead body comes in you guys, you’ve always got to check it’s the right body. You’ve got to check the toe tag. Right you! Check the body! It should be Mr Smith.”
Then the cadet would come over and you would just sit up and go “hey what you doing?”. The cadets used to wet themselves!
You wouldn’t be able to do this now.
Two things that would make me quit the job would be the first time I have nightmares – I’ve had dreams but never nightmares. And the first time one talks back to me. But that’s never happened yet.
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