We’re just doing what we can, but we’re constantly worried about our own safety while working. At my facility, we’re wearing N95 masks because the filtration is so much better and it makes it a good positive seal on your face. I’ve got a mask with a respirator that uses the P100 multi-vapour cartridges. Aside from that, we’re wearing our standard personal protective equipment and taking extra precautions – keep our faces covered and doing whatever we can to keep our risks as low as we possibly can. As far as handling the body goes, if you roll the body, if you put pressure on the chest, there’s the chance of expelling air from the lungs.
After we get done embalming a body, we pack the nasal passages and everything else and once it’s bathed well and preserved well, to me, it’s as safe as it can possibly be and should not pose a risk to the families or anyone else who comes in contact with it. I really wish we were embalming them all, but we just don’t have the manpower right now. As far as licensed embalmers, there’s a definitely a big shortage, especially down here in Texas.
Seeing so many of these people who have passed away who shouldn’t have died in the first place and the husbands and wives passing within days of each other – on top of just the mass volume – is a lot to deal with. Although we try to distance ourselves professionally as much as possible while doing our jobs, it wears on us. There are a lot of us that definitely have some PTSD – or just traumatic stress. It’s really, really hard.
My wife and I don’t get to see much of each other. I’ve got two kids who just started college, and they don’t get to see nearly as much of me as they would like to. And it’s very difficult. Right now shifts start at 8am and we are currently working 19 to 20 hours the first day of our two-day shifts. Then we’re back up after sleeping a few hours, and we don’t sleep that second night of work. Then I go home and either work other places in my town – I live in East Texas and I drive to central Texas for work and, even when I’m home, I often help out at the local funeral home here and other places are calling for help – or, if I am lucky, I will sleep 30 hours straight. My downfall or failing has been the inability to tell people “no” when they call for help.
I’d say 85% of the people who are coming in right now passed from Covid. A lot of them are coming from the ICU. It’s not uncommon to get bodies from there, but what is uncommon is to get seven or eight or 10 bodies a day.
It’s so bad that we have had to get one of those large government FEMA refrigerated trailers. We’ve never had that before. Our facility has the ability to hold somewhere around 90 or 100 bodies in the walk-in refrigerator in our building, and another smaller one in the garage will hold another 18 or so bodies. And we’re full! If it comes down to it and we completely run out of refrigeration space, we will wind up having to embalm everybody that comes in that we can’t put into refrigeration. Basically, if we can’t get a body into refrigeration or buried within 24 hours, then we have to embalm, and there are only so many people who are qualified to do that.