Friday, July 18, 2014

The Million For A Morgue Update


So here’s a question. How much fun can you have at the opening of a morgue?
Quite a lot!

Sue and some fizzy pop

Val McD after some Fizzy pop

Many of you have been involved with, cajoled into, happily volunteered to help us raise funds for the  million for a morgue campaign.
                                                         The Killer Non Cook Off

 Some of you donated money, some donated recipes for the Killer Cook Book, some cooked those recipes (badly), some  wrestled border collies to the ground at Bloody Scotland, some dressed up in pink lycra and  some brave types drank a huge amount of vile cocktail all in the aid of the charity.
Indeed, I think my first blog for the murder is everywhere  blog site was about the MFAM campaign.  Now to get down to the bones of it. Or the heart of the matter
You will be thrilled to know that the morgue is now open, up and functioning.  You will already  know that  if you live in the UK as it was plastered over most of the  TV news yesterday. Val McDermid was being intellectual and doing the ‘pieces to camera’. Myself  and two others were  hiding behind a pillar, skulking round it as the camera panned round the morgue to keep out of sight in a very Scooby Doo type of way.
So the morgue is  now the McDermid morgue.
                                              I  was hoping for a special room for dissecting Stuart

                                                 The Fab book Stuart did for the campaign

                                                                 The man himself

So the dissection room is now the Stuart McBride dissection room.


Tank number three is  the Caro Ramsay tank! I have four permanent residents.
 For obvious reasons there are no photographs  of the morgue itself.

We had a tour of the mortuary, then we went into the tank area. The tanks are named after the crime writers that took part in the campaign except Lee Child – his tank is called ‘Jack Reacher’. He sits opposite Mark Billingham, and Kathy Reichs is the last one on the left as you walk down the central aisle.  

Each tank holds four cadavers.  And they can be retained for up to three years. The new facility can cope with twice the “bequeathal capability” so the  increased scope for training and research is obvious.
 When I trained I did a lot of dissection  of formalin cadavers and they retain neither colour or flexibility which was interesting but not realistic. It was not too bad for us as we do two further subjects called  surface anatomy and functional anatomy,  which placed our findings on dissection in a living, breathing, moving context. Makes sense as most of our patients start off that way.

The new ‘New Forensic Centre of Excellence’ uses the Thiel embalming method and is doing a lot of work in pushing the practical applications of this process. It is the first university in the UK to exclusively  use the process, the medical schools at  Leeds and Liverpool  are trying to develop some kind of Theil programme of their own. The process is most common in Germany with Lisbon  being one of the biggest outside Germany.

 I found it quite touching that most of the cadavers are aged 80- 85 People that have lived a long life  and wanted to help others once they had passed on. 

There are cadavers that they cannot take. Too large but that is rare as  people in that age range tend to be slim – a hard fact of our society, if you want to live a long life – keep your weight down! Disease process doesn’t really discount anybody (there is no Ebola in Dundee).
 The big bugbear for the morgue staff seems to be solicitors. The deceased has left firm and precise instructions  about how they wish their remains to be  donated. But if they pass away on a Friday…. And solicitor  is playing golf on the Monday and still going through paperwork on the Tuesday - the remains slowly slip from the usable timeline.
I found two of the practical applications really fascinating.
Ultrasound delivered to the liver by an extremely fine needle. But the liver moves slightly  with respiration. And the thin needle/ moving tissue  scenario can cause problems.  The Theils  method allows gentle inflation of the lung tissue to mimic respiration  and facilitate realistic training. Equally, ‘blood‘ flow can be replicated for surgeons to gain practical and realistic experience on stent implants – something you do not want to go wrong the minute you are discharged from hospital.
The staff had no funny stories at all about finding strange objects in bodies – it has never happened. No bits of surgical equipment, no surgeons wedding rings, no USB sticks. All those stories are apocryphal.

The morgue PR guy – you can guess how challenging that job can be  – told the story of the campaign right back to its origins. The ‘million for a morgue’  never expected to raise a million, they just went for the alliteration. And they have surpassed themselves in raising  over 75% of the money needed and  quiet smiles were exchanged over the over 25%  so I am no allowed to  comment!!! But watch this space.
He was thrilled at the response of people. They thought nobody would be interested in raising  money for such a cause, except maybe medical types - those that could see its practical application and worth. He suspected it might be too macabre for the  man in the street. It certainly does not have the appeal of labrador puppies  for Guide Dogs For The Blind.
But that was not so, time and time again he found folk backed the campaign to the hilt but not with their wallet, because they believed  it should be funded from central government. And that is not the way universities work nowadays.

But enough people, including many readers and contributors to this blog, put hand in pocket or pen to paper,  got out the phone  and voted, the pounds started to fly in. They never expected to actually raise a million, they never expected to achieve what they did.
It’s now 80% up and running!  

Maybe the CSI effect had something to do with the general  public’ awareness/ acceptance  of the benefits of mortuary activity to society  overall.  It’s not such an unknown quantity, even if it’s largely a fictional one in that context.
Maybe because they made it sexy.
Also it could be argued that the immediacy of conflict coverage in the media has drawn us in.  Ethnic cleansing is still going on,  the dead are still left unidentified and maybe we, as a society do empathize with that. We can all imagine losing a loved one and never knowing what happened to them. We can all identify with not having a place to rest them.
It’s a very personal thing. My friend will not sign a donor form in case they harvest him before he is dead ( he reads a lot of science fiction ) or bequest his mortal remains to medical science in case they turn him into a zombie (he goes to a lot of conventions with other single men with beards).       

Strange to say that the morgue opening was a life affirming experience.  


So congratulations to Sue and the team.
Now onto the next ten million,

Caro Ramsay GB  18 07 2014


  1. Congratulations of having a Think Process Tank named after you. What an honor! (I have no idea what this is, but it's lovely to have this recognition!)

    What a hoot. Sounds like so much fun. And your friend may be onto something with his concerns.

  2. Caro, congratulations to all concerned. What a creative fundraiser, and what a success story.

  3. I love the way you made this happen. But I'm too tired to reach(er) for the pun possibilities. Congratulations!