Carla Valentine, 32 Technical curator at Barts Pathology Museum
How did you get into pathology?
‘I grew up reading Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. For me it was all about how pathological changes could be used by the investigator to solve a crime and put someone in prison. So I worked as an embalmer’s assistant at a funeral home, then got a degree in forensic science and eventually a job in a mortuary.’
When do you get to the slicin ‘n’ dicin’?
‘The pathology technician is responsible for all the dissection and evisceration. You make sure the deceased is undressed and then do the external examination before doing the evisceration and preparing the organs for the doctor. You’re looking at the whole body, searching for things like inhaled food, fluid in the abdomen – things like that.’
What goes wrong? Ever lost a limb?
‘No! I mean, you could put the wrong body out for a viewing, but it’s never happened. There’s just no room for mistakes! Though, sometimes people who don’t know the mortuary very well put the plastic overshoes on their heads because they think they’re hairnets.’
Do you ever think: Right, that’s quite enough dead bodies for one day?
‘There are days when you’re working on decomposed cadavers and you can still smell it when you get home, despite having a couple of showers. The best thing you can do is just get used to it, because you can tell a lot about the body by the smell. But I did it for eight years before moving to Barts and I absolutely loved it.’
You’ve set up a dating site for people in the death industries, called Dead Meet. Is it hard to find love in a mortuary?
‘It just makes it easier if your partner has a similar job. If you come home and want to talk about your bad day, and your partner goes, ‘Yeah I had this really angry customer,’ you think: No, I found ten maggots in my bra – I had a really bad day. That’s why people like us gravitate towards each other.’
‘Forensics: the Anatomy of Crime‘ is at Wellcome Collection, Jun 21.
Interview by Eddy Frankel