Death: An Introduction
Someone died in my partner’s apartment block the other day.
Well, more accurately: they died a couple of weeks ago. They found the body the other day.
I’d been commenting on the smell for a while now; we thought the folks downstairs weren’t keeping up the hygiene of their big-ass cat (think rotting wet food and lots of shitty kitty litter). Turns out they’d been putting out excess kitty litter to try and detract from the unidentified-dead-person smell coming from elsewhere in the building – which is fair – I didn’t want to blame the cat either.
So, I’ve been strolling past a slowly fermenting dead person on my way to and from uni for the past week or so, which I’ll admit was an odd thought to process initially.
Most people would mourn the poor soul, who died alone in their sleep from some unknown illness, and didn’t have enough regular human contact in their life for someone to come looking for them. It wasn’t as if someone got worried when they weren’t picking up the phone, responding to texts or rejecting candy crush requests – there was no one in their life to reach out to them in the first place.
For whatever reason this person’s heart stopped circulating enough oxygenated blood to the brain such that the neural tissue died. In the absence of that key circulation: the rest of the cells throughout their body started to die. Their immune system pretty rapidly stopped being useful without oxygen or ATP to finance its function and was suddenly too busy dying to stop the bacteria this person carried inside their digestive tract their entire life from eating them from the inside out. So the bacteria had a field day breaking their host down to rotting nutrient soup, which kicked up the stink of fermenting organic matter and was eventually noticed, dismissed, noticed more pungently later, complained about to no one in particular, shrugged off, decided to be getting out of hand, complained about in email form to a landlord, disregarded by landlord, complained about again from different residents, begrudgingly investigated, and then finally, fragrantly, discovered.
Yes, I guess I can see why some would be saddened by the thought of this.
This concept is distressing to some of the residents, usually the younger people. Others, however, take little notice of it. They either don’t care or have seen it before, the latter of which is surprisingly common in this building. My partner doesn’t seem overly fussed: this isn’t the first person to die in this block.
But the residents who are emotionally struck aren’t really sad for the deceased person if you look at it honestly. “What a sad way to go,” is really just their ego being frightened by mortality as they picture themselves dying the same way: survival is the foundation of empathy. I’m not really worried about the dead person’s feelings and neither are they: the dead person is dead now, they don’t care.
I’m in the boat of the people thinking about the smell, but not because it’s bothering me (don’t get me wrong: it’s pretty pungent to walk past), I’m thinking more about how different it is compared to the smell of cadavers I’m accustomed to dealing with in the Anatomy labs. Something about the awe of being able to dissect a human body for the sake of my education made me forget how the bodies end up here on the slab. Not the actual dying part, but the processes that happen afterwards. I’ve spent the past three years studying the human body and what marvelous machinery makes it work. I’ve dissected and studied the preserved bodies of the deceased to learn more about how we can continue living without really thinking about the unavoidable truth that I will one day return to the soil to make way for something new.
I will end.
As a budding scientist, my curiosity in this matter is far stronger than any emotional discomfort, so naturally I must learn more. Strap yourselves in, fellow bloggers, and come on a morbid adventure with me. Over the next series of blogs I’m going to put a spotlight on that uncomfortable friend that floats on the side of the group, that no one wants to talk to, but is always there, everywhere you go: allow me to introduce Death.