Nine to five: Ottie Kirkpatrick
Sunday 28 February 1999
Ottie Kirkpatrick, 35
Occupation Mortuary Technician Officer
Describe a typical Monday.
First I go and see what has come in over the weekend - the BIDU, which means "brought in dead by undertakers" - and check their ID and so forth. If a body has to be formally identified I will get the deceased ready and put the body in the chapel for relatives to identify. If doctors are unable to give a cause of death, the coroner has to be involved. We change into theatre blues and wear a gown, plastic apron and wellies for autopsies. It is the pathologist's job to establish the cause of death, but with experience we learn the different causes. Then there is a lot of paperwork, and cleaning. The mortuary has to be cleaned with bleach and disinfectant. The instruments have to be autoclaved after use. I don't get involved with counselling but we may be asked to be around when relatives view the deceased.
How does your day start?
A radio alarm clock wakes me up with Capital Radio just before seven. I live with my partner Tel and our three daughters Hannah, 15, Melissa, 12, and Charlotte who is three and a half, and we have two bathrooms so we don't fight. The two eldest girls get themselves up. I don't eat breakfast - haven't got time for that. It's straight up, flit around, do whatever I've got to do and out.
What do you wear?
A skirt and blouse. Clothes get ruined because of the `death smell'. I can't describe it myself because I can't smell it any more. But if I've been busy at work, when I come home, Tel will say, "You don't half smell".
What's your journey to work like?
I leave at 8.10am and drop Charlotte off at her nursery. I get to work at about 8.30am.
Describe your workspace.
I alternate between two hospitals: the mortuary at one is like an old cottage and the other is a square, detached building. Both have different entrances for visitors, staff and for undertakers to bring and remove the bodies and both have a chapel where relatives can view the deceased. Some people prefer to view the body here rather than wait to see it at the funeral directors'. Autopsies take place in other rooms which are fitted with lots of stainless steel.
How long do you take for lunch?
I don't really worry about lunch. If I have time I'll have a roll, otherwise I'll have nothing until I go home.
What stresses you out most at work?
Distressed relatives. Especially when they have lost children. I never want people to think I know what they're going through because I don't, but I can imagine.
What are the perks?
There aren't any. I just enjoy what I do. But I do get letters and thank- you cards from relatives who appreciate what I've done.
How many hours do you work?
37.5 hours, plus I'm on call every other week.
What do you do when you're not working?
I'm studying for a diploma so I read a fair bit. Sometimes I will go out with friends to a nightclub and occasionally we go to the dogs.
How much holiday do you take?
Twenty-five days per year, plus bank holidays.
What's the first thing you do when you get home?
Take off my coat and start housework and washing.
Do you dread Mondays on Sunday nights?
No, it's just another night for me. I enjoy my days - although you have to be a certain person to do this job. It's the best job I've ever done - I've never looked at the money.
INTERVIEWED BY PETER CROSS
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