Morgue workers treat dealing with dead bodies the same way any other professional deals with their daily tasks, it's just part of the job. But with the number of dead bodies a mortician or any other medical professional who deals with death on a daily basis will see throughout their career, there can be some crazy days on the job.
A Reddit thread recently asked morgue workers and other medical professionals to share their craziest stories from working with the dead. Some of the following stories are tragic while others are rather bizarre, but they're all worth a read. All posts have been edited for clarity and readability.
This Mortician Had Seen A Lot But Wasn’t Prepared For “Frankenstein’s Monster”
“One time at the morgue, we had an older lady, maybe mid-60s, who looked like a beautiful, youthful 40-year-old from the chest up, and like Frankenstein’s monster below that. I’m talking about numerous heavy scars all over, misshapen areas of her torso, lots of discoloration and fluid build up. She looked like she had been attacked by a lawnmower and crudely stapled back together. Come to find out, she was really into plastic surgery and even though she had an expensive, well-recommended surgeon, things started to go wrong. She got infections, her body wasn’t responding well to the surgeries, and every procedure done to fix the previous one just went worse. They pretty much turned her into a living meat puzzle.
Another time, we had a seemingly healthy middle-aged guy who had a heart attack and passed away early one morning. His wife and adult kids came in that afternoon to make arrangements. A few hours later at home, while her family was eating dinner, she went to lay down, had a heart attack of her own and passed away. So we ended up picking up both the husband and the wife at the same time, and no, the greedy funeral home didn’t offer the family a discount on the removals.”
“It Was When It Fell Off Again That I Freaked Out”
“In my early days as a first responder, my team responded to an accident in a rural area and we were the first on the scene. It was a multi-vehicle accident where one of the drivers had been decapitated.
I got in the passenger side and his head was hanging on by a few tendons on the right side; without thinking, I grabbed his head and tried to ‘put it back on.’ I don’t know why. In retrospect, I think I saw something that wasn’t right and instinct told me ‘this goes here.’
From where I was, his head looked upside down. When I ‘put it back on,’ it kind off lulled back and off to the right again.
The old-timers laughed and teased me a few times, and one of them pulled me aside and told me, ‘It’s not the first time someone’s done that. It won’t be the last.’ I have heard of other people doing similar things but haven’t personally witnessed it.
I was ok with putting it back on, it was when it fell off again that I freaked out.”
Is A Brain Supposed To Look Like That?
“I’ve dissected a lot of cadavers, but my craziest experience was the one time when a guy’s brain was completely necrosed. I don’t know why the brain didn’t preserve, but my guess was it was part of his cause of death. We scooped out handfuls of watery, gray, refried bean brains and had to just leave it in his tub with him until he got cremated.
Another time, we had a lady with chronic lung problems that caused her heart to essentially work in overdrive to compensate. Over a long period of time, the heart grew (just like any other muscle that is worked) and this 110-pound lady ended up with a heart the size of a cantaloupe. But organs always have weird anomalies.
We leave the cadavers in giant plastic bags and then they’re shipped to the cremation place. Essentially everything that was dissected out of the cadaver that can’t be put back in the chest cavity is this sloshing around in a bag with the cadaver. You’re not allowed to throw away anything besides fat, it’s kind of a respect thing and I’m sure there’s a legality to it as well.
There were a few dissections in there that made me not want certain foods for a while. Like the time this one guy donated his eyes and his sockets were empty but filled with this green goop that looked like green jello mixed a little bit with milk.”
At Least They Found Out What Happens To A Body When The Freezer Breaks Down
“I work in a hospital in infection control and occasionally I am needed down in the morgue when there is a containment issue.
On this night, a body was brought in under special circumstances. A body was found in a body of water, so the patient was already swollen from that. It has been at least a few days since the time of death. This patient did not have any positive results from the lab, so I didn’t understand why I was called in.
What happened was, all suspicious death autopsies are performed at a single location in my state. Since there body was found on a Friday, we were to keep the body in storage until it could be transported on Monday. This is not abnormal, but here’s what happened…
Our body storage is actually just an old walk-in freezer from the cafeteria renovation years ago. After the body was brought in, the freezer broke down at some point over the weekend, and as the body warmed up, so did the gases in the intestines, resulting in the lower torso exploding onto the cart and floor. It was the most putrid thing I’ve ever had to be a part of.”
He Was More Disturbed By The Smell Than The Half-Burning Woman
“As a firefighter, I was called out to a crematorium. Three panicky, well-dressed people met us at the back door where light smoke was coming out. They were the funeral director and two other employees there and had been attempting to load a woman into the crematorium but the thin board they had her on broke and the couldn’t get her all the way inside.
The oven was set at 1,600 degrees, and it was at about 900 and rising when I got there. The body was half in and they couldn’t get her in to shut the door. The top half of her was sizzling and charing and smoking a little.
We used some pike poles under the broken particle board they apparently use to roll them in with and managed to finish sliding her in and get the door closed.
I expected it to really stink but it smelled like steak just pulled off the grill. Maybe her hair had already burned up before I got there so I was only smelling cooking meat. It was more disturbing that it smelled good. I could see her face in the oven and could see her body charing but the smell wasn’t anything like what I was expecting.”
What Do You Mean, You LOST The Body?
“We ‘lost’ the body.
I was a student RN at the time in a nursing home. A very old lady died (completely expected), and the stupid young doctor marked her as needing an autopsy.
The guy that picks up the bodies and takes them to the pathologist took her to the forensic morgue on the other side of the city. It was all sorted out as a mistake by the new guy, but a very worrying 24 hours where no one knew where she was.
The family was actually very understanding.”
The Last Story Is Something Of Nightmares
“I’m a medicolegal death investigator, basically a forensic investigator that works at a medical examiner’s office and only investigates deaths.
I once responded to a call where a guy had been dead for a month and melted into his couch. I decided the best course of action was to just spill him into my transport bag, but when that happened, his head (basically a skeleton by this point) fell off and rolled behind the couch due to insect infestation eating his neck away.
Another time, there was the woman who lived in a trailer and lit a charcoal grill for heat and ended up killing herself and her two dogs by accident due to carbon monoxide.
Then there was the foot that was found at a train yard. It turns out it belonged to some homeless guy in another state who was riding the rails. Somehow it got cut off, he fell off the train and lived while his little piggies kept going and ended up on my state a few days later.
I used to work in Lancaster, Penn., and there was the father/farmer who accidentally ran over his kid with one of those huge corn combines while he was harvesting. The kid went up and out the tube out the side and we had to transport him with buckets.
Last year, I had a woman who lived in a huge mansion but was a hoarder. She ended up dying in her bathtub after taking too many sleeping pills. The water was hot and the jets were on for about two weeks before someone finally found the soup. I had to open up the tub drain with a BBQ spatula that I found. Drained the tub and ended up having to remove her in pieces because she just fell apart.
I had a call for a body stuffed and dumped into a big Tupperware container at the beginning of the year. It was an unclothed woman folded up, placed way out in the woods, and set on fire. I got called out to the scene, start taking pictures and making my way to the decedent. I found some clothes and was looking for a wallet to see if there was an ID, but I didn’t find anything at that point. I started taking pics of the body and container. Half a dozen detectives, county forensics, and 10 patrolmen were all surrounding me as I was about to touch the body. I felt the hand and instantly something was wrong. I figured maybe she’d been burnt or exposed to the elements so she felt weird. I touched her hand again to see if she’s in rigor and all, but this time I squeezed. It was latex. Some weirdo stuffed a real doll into a Tupperware container and dumped it. The collective sigh/uproarious laughter that followed was incredible.”
When You Hear Screaming Coming From Inside The Morgue….
“Late one night, someone was screaming ‘Help!’ and banging on the door of the morgue from the inside. The door had been rigged to stay shut from the outside.
No, it wasn’t a zombie, it was a very alive and very terrified woman. The housekeepers were hazing a newbie who was terrified of dead bodies.
There was a setup with some mops through the door handle, which prevented her from getting out. Someone approaching from the hallway could get in if they moved the handles out of the way.”
The Reason They Wait To Make The Call
“I am a hospice nurse, and the weirdest, or I guess most unusual case, was the first body I pronounced dead.
I was a bit nervous and the family was all around just staring at me and waiting for me to say their loved one was officially dead. I hadn’t heard a heartbeat and he hadn’t breathed for about a minute. His pupils were fixed and dilated, and all the signs were there: dead as dead could be.
As I was telling the family, right after I said, ‘He is gone,’ the guy gave one last gasp. It freaked the family out, and I had to explain it was normal, and yes, he was absolutely dead.
I wait two minutes now.”
They Have A Lot Of Experience With The Dead, Maybe Too Much
“I work on a mountain rescue team. We once responded to a guy who fell 60 feet off a cliff and bounced a couple times on his way down. We found his body easily, but both his shoes were 100 feet from where he landed. It was like they launched off his feet. It was weird. The messed up part was that two weeks after that incident, a young girl took a cab to the same spot he fell from (15 minutes out of town, not near anything else) and killed herself by jumping from the exact same cliff.
We have had a ton of incidents of people taking psychedelics and getting lost or hurt in the woods. It is pretty funny when we have to convince someone who is tripping balls that you brought a ‘flying bed’ to carry them out on.
The worst thing about the dead is the SMELL. The sweet, sharp smell of a body that is more than a few hours old is distinct and terrible. I lived in the Philippines for a few years and a typhoon hit the city I lived in and triggered a massive landslide that killed 1,000 people. As the bodies were being dug up, they were piled in the town cemetery that was on the way to the university I worked as. The smell of driving by that place on a hot day is one that I will never forget.”
The Fire Was Already A Big Deal But Then Someone Crawled Out
“I am a fire-medic. There was this chemical fire in a medical plant near us, so all the fire departments and fire brigades along with the local military CBRN and civil protection CBRN were called, and an emergency broadcast was outed for everyone to stay inside and close their windows.
What I am trying to say is, it was a big deal.
We weren’t allowed closer than 45 meters and any personal closer than 200 meters to the building had to wear protective clothing (Vapor/Gas protection – Level A hazmat suits in the USA).
Somewhere mid fire, my fiancee that is a firefighter told me there was this horrible smell coming from the fire.
We spotted a man crawling out through a fire exit, his skin was literally melting, one guy even puked in his suit. After the fire, the civil protection team was drawing straws who would take care of the body.
Nobody knew how he survived for so long, but it was a really nasty scene.”
But When Is A Truck Vs Pedestrian Wreck A “Good Time”?
“I handle traffic accident investigations.
One time, there was an 18-wheeler making a right-hand turn into a one-lane road. It had to take the turn wide before straightening out into the single lane.
A pedestrian on that corner stepped off the curve to cross the road while the truck/trailer was mid-turn, but the pedestrian didn’t realize or see that the trailer would be swinging back towards them as the truck straightened out.
The pedestrian’s body was knocked down and ultimately pinched between the curb and the back set of trailer wheels (fully loaded trailer).
The truck acted like a pair of scissors, and it pretty much snipped the body along the waist almost all the way across. It was not a good time.”
He Was Prepared To Go
“I once had a 100-year-old patient with colonic mass admitted for new compression fractures likely secondary to metastatic cancer.
Their family did not want to pursue further workup and he was placed on comfort care with a plan to discharge him back home on hospice. He was feeling well on the day of discharge and his sons came by to make sure he got on the ambulance. The medics loaded him onto the gurney, he closed his eyes, took one more breath, and died right there.
The sons told us later that they were actually pretty relieved because they didn’t want their father to die at home because of how much it would affect their mother.
I had never had a patient die while in the process of leaving the hospital before that. It’s weird for a physician to say, but what a good way to go.”
The Truth Behind Organ Donations
“I asked my dad this – he was in organ donation for many years. This is one of his favorite stories:
His job was basically to be ready to go 24/7 to any hospital in his area of the state (Alabama) when an acceptable donor came up. He would go to the hospital, evaluate the patient and secure consent from the family to retrieve the organs.
Next came the actual operation where the various parts to be donated were harvested (I hate using the word harvest, but it’s what he uses). They don’t always just take things like kidneys or lungs, often they take other tissues like tendons, skin, and bones.
As far as organ donors go, a person who is brain dead from a head injury is the best because the body is perfectly intact, including all of the bones. Dad tells about how they used to remove every major bone except the hands, feet, tibia, fibula, radius, and ulna. So elbow to hand and knee to foot were still intact, but everything else has no structure. He said they would remove the spine last, and after that, the body was just a bag of skin. They would do a baseball style stitch with basically twine to hold the skin together and then just fold the person up like a cheap suit and put it in a box to be shipped away to where the family wanted it.
He also told about how once he went in a morgue to talk to the mortician and there was a burn victim on the table when they went it. He said the body was so burned that the abdomen had busted open and all of the guts had cooked. The arms legs and head had burned away, and the torso was shriveled on the back, so the torso was arched up off the table.
That poor person.”
They Are Used To This “Phenomenon” At This Point
“I worked in a veterinary clinic for a while. I have witnessed the phenomenon of ‘jumping ship’ twice. One time, we had a cat who was old and sick be brought in to be put down. She was covered in fleas and when we put the medicine in that euthanizes them, the fleas were able to tell and immediately started leaving the body in huge numbers to the point where the area around the body was black from fleas.
The other time I saw it was when we put a dog down in the OR because exploratory surgery showed his tumor was inoperable. He had some ticks that all jumped off as soon as the medication was injected.
From what I can remember from working there (it’s been a few years), the fact that every surface is metal makes the furry pet hosts much more habitable and the cleaners we use are basically work-horses that can kill even parvo-virus (which can live dormant for years), so it pretty much just kills whatever fleas escape.”
The Day It Rained Blood In NYC
“I never worked in a job that involved life and death, but when I was in my teens, I saw the aftermath of an accident involving a Long Island Rail Road train and a bicyclist trying to beat the gate. His body was literally ripped apart into a dozen or so pieces. There was blood all over the tracks. It was wild.
A second time involving a train happened maybe five years ago, this time it was the NYC N subway line. The N is an elevated subway line that runs along 31st Street for much of its length in Queens. A guy committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Unfortunately, the people walking beneath the subway tracks where he died were showered with blood. I can’t even imagine how horrifying that must have been. I arrived a bit after it happened, so I only saw a few cars doused with blood.