People Daily

Mortuary workers have feelings too

Leshan Lontubu, a mortuary superintendent at Narok Referral Hospital, debunks myths associated with the job, given a wide berth by many

In many African cultures, death and the dead are feared and revered, and the mere mention of a mortuary, sends a shiver down the spine of many people. Being a mortuary attendant is a job many people would think twice about, despite the joblessness that engulfs the country.

But 42-year-old Leshan Lontubu, a Mortuary superintendent in charge of Narok Referral Hospital mortuary, has been working in a morgue for 11 years. When he was young he wanted to be a pilot or a doctor, but things did not go his way.

He got this job after completing Form Four and later certificate course in mortuary science at Chiromo campus of the University of Nairobi. To him, the job is a calling.

Leshansays he loves his work as a mortuary attendant and he took it up by choice.Leshan’s job entails receiving and cleaning the bodies, labelling them properly for identification, preparing them for preservation by applying various chemicals required and storing them in refrigerators.

He also prepares the bodies for postmortem and must be physically present to help the pathologist dissect the body to determine the cause of death and then take back the body for preservation after postmortem.

As the superintendent at the hospital, Leshan is also required to complete the necessary paperwork to receive and release the body to the relatives or to any other person if there is a court order. “You see, there are laws that govern how you handle and interact with the dead,” he says.

Working with the dead gives him satisfaction to help honour the departed and give them their last respects. He says he even advises his children to follow his footsteps, adding that it’s a job like any other. In the beginning, his family was uncomfortable with his choice of job.

Later they came to accept his choice and they now support him. Mortuary attendants should have a high school certificate or general education and at least a diploma in mortuary science.

They can also pursue a degree at the University of Nairobi, the only institution known to offer this course up to the highest level at its Chiromo campus. Being an emotional job, a mortuary attendant is required to maintain composure in the face of extremely difficult circumstances. Physical fitness is necessary as is attention to detail.

Most mortuary attendants training is on the job. If you plan to become a funeral director, you will need a four-year degree in mortuary science. Leshan says he is married and blessed with two boys and one girl who support and value his job.

He says one of the challenges they face is when they get bodies that are dismembered or charred. “In this case, a DNA test is conductede on samples from the bodies and from those claiming the bodies,” says Leshan. There are many stereotypes being propagated about people who work in morgues.

One of the myths is that a mortuary attendant must be an alcoholic or a drug addict, but Leshan dismisses this, saying they serve people who are not happy but sad people, so one must be sober in order to help them deal with the loss. He says serving people who have lost their loved ones also affects him so most of the time he is not in a good mood. “It’s a job that requires one to be in a sober mind in order to help detect the causes of the death of a patient.

I am sometimes bitter about these myths being spread about mortuary attendants,” Leshan says. Leshan says some people claim mortuary attendants have no feelings and that is why they are able to work in an environment full of bodies.

He dispels this myth saying mortuary attendants have feelings and it is a job like any other. He says they are stigmatised and even when walking on the streets, many people don’t want to associate with him and some are even heard saying: ‘that is the mortuary guy’.

Leshan also says people have a myth that a person working in a morgue can communicate with the dead, adding that this is not true. Another myth is that people who are brought in the morgue and are not dead are killed by the mortuary attendant, an allegation Leshau categorically denies.

Leshan explains when a body is brought to the morgue, it’s refrigerated after three hours and this is just in case the person is found to be alive which has never occurred. In case this occurs, a doctor should be called in immediately and the patient is taken to a ward at the hospital for assistance but the matter is kept confidential,” he says. He views his work with bodies as a calling.

Contrary to myths that people who work in a morgue experience nightmares, Leshan has never had any nightmare. “When I’m out of the morgue, I forget everything that has happened that day and concentrate on my family,” Leshan says.

Leshan says members of the public should be sensitised about such careers because young people are shying away from themas a result of misconceptions. He fears that very soon, such careers will not have the necessary manpower to run them and yet they are careers like any other and are important to the society. “Imagine a world without mortuaries, or mortuaries without people to work there,” Leshan says.

Many youth engage in activities which ruin their lives after becoming desperate to get a job and make a living, but Leshan advises every jobless youth not to be too selective in career choices and consider mortuary science.

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