Sunday 16 May 2021
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20 000 corpses and 14 years – “still a calling”

A mortuary worker has revealed what it is like dealing with dead people all day – saying his job is a ‘calling’.
Many would dare to disagree however this is a debate, Chief Mortuary Assistant of the Windhoek Central State Hospital, Leonard Dausab says he is happy to defend.
Having seen and worked with about 20 000 dead bodies for the past fourteen years, Dausab has come to realise that caring for the dead until they reach their final resting place was a task that required willingness from those who had an interest in such a field.
Speaking to The Patriot during an interview this week, he recalls that during his teenage years, especially after his grandmother passed on, all he could think about was wanting to understand why people had to die.
“During that time I questioned myself, I wanted to dig deeper into studying about the meaning of death and why it was such a painful process to go through.
I also had biology as a subject and was taught about human anatomy which also contributed to my career choice as a mortuary assistant” he said.
With death being such a difficult process that many families go through, Dausab learned to understand that everything in life had a beginning and an end, but noted that there was a need for people to learn how to let go when it came to such a process.
Working in such an environment came with its own challenges, especially when people judge you and others who work in the mortuary about their mental capacity, according to Dausab.
“There are certain cultural beliefs and a general misconception, where people believe that mortuary workers are not one hundred percent okay, because they cannot fathom why one would choose to work in this kind of environment” he noted.
Dausab has however not let the stigmatization of working with the dead get to him as his spiritual faith and understanding from his family has gotten him through the process.
“Working in the mortuary is both an easy and difficult job, there are a lot of things one has to go through, and one must overcome fear as well as be spiritually strong.
If one is not strong enough to overcome the fear of working with the dead, I would advise them not to get into such a work environment. Do not force yourself into this type of work, if you are not comfortable with it” he stated.
Asked about the process of body handling of the dead, Dausab explained that the mortuary only deals with cases are reported from the Windhoek Central Hospital.
These cases are usually of patients who were originally admitted at the hospital or were being treated at the hospital.
“Once a person is declared dead, the hospital gives us a call reporting that there is a death case and we should fetch the body but before we fetch the body, we always inform the nurse on the ground to prepare the body.
This means they must clean the body and place it in a body bag as well as identify the body by labelling it with a name tag.
Normally we work with notice-of-death documentation which has all the references and particulars of the deceased stated on paper and only then will the body be brought to the mortuary for storing until it is collected by family members” he said.
In most cases, Dausab revealed that the mortuary workers do not usually see the physical body of the deceased because it arrives at the mortuary sealed in a body bag but this is also determined by the type the case is categorised as.
The death cases are usually divided into two, natural and unnatural causes of death. Natural death cases are said to be normal medical cases where the deceased has been diagnosed with certain long term illnesses which are well known by the doctors.
Unnatural death cases involve investigations of forensic or court cases such as stab wounds, gun shots, snake bites and accidents which will require that the body go through the process of conducting an autopsy.
“We are divided into groups made up of doctors, mortuary assistants and mortuary technicians.
The assistants and technicians jobs are to usually dissect the body, whereby they open up the skull and the upper body and remove all the organs and place them on an operation table where the doctor will then analyse and determine the closer cause of the death as well as determine how badly the body was injured.
After that is done we gather all the organs place them back into the body and close up the body again” he explained.
Family members are then given the results of the autopsy if requested and are then allowed to view the body upon request.
“Family members are usually left alone with the body of the deceased.
We allow families to have time with the deceased because that is their time to pay their last respects.
This usually helps with the easing of the pain but we only allow family members who are fit enough to view the body to do so because it is not an easy process.
We have had people collapse here before” he noted.
This year alone the mortuary is said to have dealt with 2500 dead bodies whereby on some days they have had to handle more than 30 bodies.
“Sometimes the numbers are high especially during winter, we tend to get many bodies because many people tend to get sick during the season and pass on” he stated.
Dausab further called upon the general public to do away with the wrong opinions of the mortuary and its workers and has urged those who need clarity about what happens here to visit the mortuary to learn more about it.
“Instead of assuming about any paranormal activities, people should know that dead people will never harm you nor fight you back.
As care takers our duty is to look after the deceased and we should not be called names for that.
I can only advise people who do not understand this job to take time out to visit our department and learn more about what happens here.
Just get familiar instead of assuming things about the mortuary” he concluded.

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