Monday, May 16, 2011

If You Must Know...

Here is a little bit of a change of pace for you guys. I imagine after a while my blog could become... somewhat depressing... Now I have other aspects of my job to write about and they have nothing to do with death and blood. What is this not so depressing aspect of my job you ask? It has to do with drug addiction. Methamphetamine to be exact. Still kind of a downer but it's at least beating hearts are involved. Really really fast beating hearts.
Cleaning meth out of a house is an unbelievable amount of work. It is almost to the point of being a ridiculous amount of work. Before I attempt to find an interesting way to describe the process a bit I will clear up a few things that I am sure some of you are wondering about.

* Is it actually a hazard to live in a house that once had a lab or frequent meth users occupying it?
    Yes and no. The main concern is directed towards children. In most cases as an adult you do not have much to worry about. However, in most cases a child would have to lick every wall in the house up, down, and all around to have any affect on them at all. In fact, the paint might be more of a hazard. But in a home that used to have an actual lab in it there is a much higher chance of there being an actual hazard.
* What makes living in a home where there was a meth lab so hazardous?
    The cooking process creates dangerous acid gases such as phosphine and hydrogen chloride. Not to mention how dangerous the actual chemicals used to cook are. Sodium hydroxide (lye), hydroidic acid (hyrogen iodide) and ammonia (anhydrous ammonia) to name a few. The residue left over from methamphetamine easily soaks into pourous surfaces like wood or carpet and will stick to smooth, flat surfaces. With higher levels it becomes an issue.
*Could I be living in a former meth house?
    Utah and a lot of the western states such as Nevada and Wyoming usually make up the top 10 states when it comes to meth usage. It wouldn't be surprising if someone has used in your home in the past. But no need to fear, there are laws that say unless a home has been decontaminated a realtor, landlord, or bank must disclose if a house tested < 1 for methamphetamine. There is always a chance someone is not following that law but this law greatly reduces your chances of moving into a contaminated home. Some banks will have every repossessed house and random other homes tested just in case, and some realtors will do the same. Most sellers don't want a new resident getting sick. There is a stigma that goes along with meth and even with extremely low levels we have to clean. It's mostly a comfort thing unless a lab was involved.

No matter what part of town you live in you can't escape methamphetamine users. From homeless junkies to stay at trophy wives just trying to live up to their expectations this drug can be a part of anyone's life. Meth is taking over the world like a sickness and the more I learn about it the more my stomach churns. The first house I cleaned was in a nice part of South Jordan. It was in a nice neighborhood with nice mothers going on walks with their nice baby strollers and pets that don't bark or bite at you. It was obvious the neighborhood was not used to seeing the pink restricted access sign with the yellow and black striped caution tape on their neighbor's doors. My coworker was approached by a neighbor with the question "What are you doing in there that you have to dress like THAT?" (referring to our Tyvek suits and respirators) We are not allowed to disclose such information so I can imagine the neighborhood had something to talk about amongst themselves. I joked with my coworkers that we should bring fake blood to the meth clean ups and when people start getting nosey splatter it on each other and run out of the house ripping off our respirators and breathing hard like something really gruesome happened in there. Or just simply smoke cigarettes on the front porch covered in "blood", give a friendly wave to the neighbors, and go about our business. That's what the nosey people get. haha. Then they would REALLY have some good gossip.
This house was empty for a while so squatters have been moving in and out, it wasn't a stay at home mom situation like I expected. In order to keep your attention span on this blog I will save the actual decontamination process for another day. Just know that even the veteren cleaners wanted to throw down their scrubbin' poles and walk away from it. If you have been wondering what the nightmares of a crime scene cleaner are like just imagine cleaning high vaulted ceilings and many rooms with un neccisary angles over and over again for hours. Add the hot suit while breathing through a respirator and soaking in chemicals that make your face go numb and you have an idea. I questioned architecture and if the architects ever considered the fact that people will at some point clean the house for one reason or another. Probably not, probably never, oh well.
Following that home we went to do a touch up clean at some apartments in West Valley. The top unit and the unit below both needed our attention. Seperate situations. We seem to get a two birds with one stone situation often. These homes tested high. To put it in perspective for you the law states that if we test a house and it is <1 for meth we have to clean it. A meth lab is around <100-200 and above for really serious cases. The South Jordan home was a 3 (hence, my resentment for all of the work that required) and these apartments were between 40 and 50. Even just smoking in a home a couple of times will test high enough to be cleaned. Ugh. Annoying. Anyway, there were little kids running around the complex and they were very curious about what we were up to. There is an endless list of akward moments with this job and a 4 year old kid stating "You guys always have to come here and clean" closely followed by "Can I help you?" is one of those moments. When he grows up he will probably pick up on what those pink signs mean. Pink is his favorite color, he told us so. We gave him a pair of gloves to entertain an distract him from trying to run into the units to help. Kids don't seem to understand when you tell them something is dangerous. We're cleaning up homes for their safety essentially.
So here is my first entry about this part of my job. Maybe not as interesting to read about as the biohazard stuff but I will keep trying to give deep insight on it regardless. There is more to think about in regards to addiction, what people are willing to put into their bodies, why people use, the expectations of who uses meth, what meth does to the mind, the decontamination process, how parking a crime scene vehical in front of a home arouses the neighborhood etc. Stay tuned. Thanks for taking an interest in my blog. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Don't Think About All the Things You Fear, Just Be Glad to Be Here

Cringe Alert!   <--- sometimes you just have to go into detail and it's the details that lead me to the need to write.
*takes a drink*
There is an eerie silence that exists, and it only exists in the presence of death. It's a unique silence, it's a silence that chills you to the bone. No matter how tough you are, no matter how used to it you may be, it affects you. Maybe in a lot of cases, it will change you.  Maybe it will make you afraid to die alone.
*gets the bottle*
When there is a "decomp" case, it means a person has begun to decompose. They have been left there long enough to only be found because of the smell, usually. It only takes a few days before skin begins to blister, pop, and stick whatever surface a body might be on. My coworkers tell me that a severe decomp case will be forever etched in your mind and the smell follows you all the way home (maybe not literally, but in a sense. haha. Scents) Today the decomp case was not a severe one, the person was there less than a week. It was long enough to leave an outline made out of coagulated blood and hair of how the body fell when he died. Almost like a chalk outline of the upper body but thicker. He hit his head pretty hard coming down. It was a 20 minute job with a plaster scraper. It's best not to get the blood wet to wash it because it will just become a mess, if it is left dry it should scrape off most surfaces. A coworker of mine who has been cleaning up crime scenes for a year took care of that no problem. My boss was just showing an idea of what to expect in the future.
*takes another drink*
But today there were two cases at the same apartment complex so my boss took me downstairs to work on the other because it was going to take a few people.
As a side note, I really like my bosses (a married couple) and my coworkers. Crime scene clean up is usually a small business, an LLC. The married couple that owns the company used to work in the funeral industry which gives us an interesting connection. The husband (still not sure if I should use names or not) tells me the physiology behind the blood and other bodily fluids and their reactions post mortem. During the clean up for the shotgun suicide he helped me identify where the pieces of bone came from and if what I was finding was fat, skin, muscle tissue, cartilage, etc. My coworkers and I get along great too. So all in all, it's the best management I have experienced as an employee. Very professional, intelligent, sympathetic and enjoyable. It's the first time I have had a chance to interact with people like me. LoL. By that I mean people that can be around morbid situations and see past the gruesome parts. I think my coworkers and I all have a similar sense of humor and basic outlook on life. It makes sense, a job like this takes a specific personality and although we are all different we have major things in common.
So back to what I was talking about...
*debates on another drink but passes for now*
Downstairs was a completely different job. I hesitate to give details, but there are a few to help give you an understanding. This man had AIDS and today I was exposed to a side that many people probably don't hear details about.  There is a reason for that. He did not pass away in his apartment but rather at the hospital. What we had to clean is what killed him, let me put it that way. It must have been... horrible for him. I can't get it out of my mind. As a cleaner we get random details. If the family is there we will get more, if not then we get what the apartment managers know, or the police. Then we have the home itself. It's hard not to try to put pieces of the puzzle together. You get an idea of how old they were, what sort of things they did, you know, the basics. This man had stylish clothing and shoes, judging from what was in his apartment he must not have been more than middle aged. There were no pictures around, we wonder did he have an unsupportive family or did he just move in and not have the time or energy to get them up? The other person (the decomp upstairs) I think was older, his apartment was full of nicknacks and pictures of family, maybe his daughter and grandchildren? There was what looked like a normal hard cover book but my boss opened it to reveal needles, pipes and drugs. Stupidly I asked "why do we throw away all of that?". LoL. I dunno, maybe because another part of our job is cleaning up meth labs. :-P
While cleaning the downstairs room we just had to leave the door open. The smell was not unbareable but it was really really intense, I started to gag at one point. It is not unusual for someone to throw up at certain jobs. Fortunately this was not one of them but it was good practice. I ran out to the front for some air as a man walked by me. He asked "Hey, what happened to my friend that lived here?" I froze, it was unexpected, I couldn't help but wonder "Am I ready for this? Answering these questions?" It is kind of awkward considering all of our equipment was out front and it was obvious the tenant was no longer living there. All that I could get out was "He isn't here anymore". Was that the right answer? I hope so. While in the apartment complex's elevator another tenant asked me "So did he leave the place pretty bad? He was only here for a couple of months." Again, unsure how to respond I utter "We're just cleaning up, he isn't here anymore." 
Now, 12 hours later I sit here contemplating my day and how work followed me everywhere I went. Geez, I feel like I am going to turn into such a downer. People ask about work and it's just not going to be a pleasant conversation. I wonder if I were to use the company truck to visit one of you and park out front if neighbors will start peeping through your windows. haha. I am still weary of telling people what my job is. You don't have to be a weirdo to do stuff like this. I dunno, maybe you do. Can a weirdo really judge that in the first place?
After today I feel a loneliness I have never felt before. A real and true fear of dying alone. How long would I lay here lifeless in my apartment before someone found me? I am grateful to have the friends that I do, I don't think it would be for too long.
*gives in and takes another drink*
I am not one to pray or believe in a higher power other than the universe itself, but tonight I almost want to pray that I never get so sick it kills me. Again, back to my fear of how I will die I fear that I will die in any way other than in my sleep, peaceful and elderly. It doesn't even have to be elderly, just please let me die peacefully.
"Don't think about all those things you fear, just be glad to be here." - FC Kahuna - Hayling

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Your Soul Sings

What makes us cringe at death? When studying the human body some people can pick up a cadaver organ like it is nothing personal while others feel traumatized over the sight of a dead body or even just hearing about a death. I was tempted to look up images of shot gun injuries and survivors to help imagine what happened to the kid I cleaned up after. When I thought about looking it up I wondered how I would feel looking through the images. When we see an injured person it is easy to relate. Have you ever seen a gruesome image or video and felt chills or maybe even a pain in the area of the body from the image you are watching? The more I learn about death the more I realize our fear of it is a selfish one (which isn't a bad thing at all, it's human nature, that fear is there to keep us alive). Not only does death remind us of our own demise, but seeing it can make some people sick to their stomach. Under our skin we are all pretty much the same and seeing what is under another human being's skin reminds us of what is under our own. It's hard not to relate to pieces of the human body. Why do I feel so curious as to see how he might look and survive without a jaw? It's not just morbid curiosity, I genuinely feel sympathy and concern because it must be a terrible way to live not having a jaw or tongue. This is where I am supposed to learn to disconnect myself from these jobs. My whole reason for getting into this particular field is to gain experience helping people in grief when I get the opportunity, help me get used to being on call, and learn how to separate my emotions when in morbid situations. It won't happen right away with me. Some people can go right into this job without adjusting, I am not one of those people. Everything I see in my life is analyzed and sorted to work in the best possible way. This job would not feel right to me if it was just a high payed cleaning gig. I am choosing to make it more, in a way that means I am choosing to feel something from it whether that be bad or good. This work will change me, it has already. Honesty isn't something that I fear as much anymore.

Before my random obsession with death (which started around 15) I knew that my fear of death was more from the act dying itself. When someone dies the funeral is generally for the survivors considering their grief is usually for many reasons not related to the deceased. But those reasons are important, fear of being alone, relief, confusion, shock from dealing with a sudden drastic change, etc. The fear of dying is your own and yes I admit mine is selfish, but I'm ok with that. It doesn't concern me what happens after I die, and I don't worry about running out of time or getting certain things done before I perish. No, my concern has always been more about the final process. Will I die in a painful way? What is I suffocate? Maybe I will be "lucky" and die in my sleep. Is there a lucky way to die? Maybe it always hurts, maybe it usually doesn't. Will it be long and drawn out? Am I going to leave my friends and family behind suddenly? Is there anything embarassing in my apartment people might find if I were to croak and does that matter? Should I write my will now just in case? Oh these things follow me each and every day. I wonder if just about every mortuary science student or person studying thanatology or death related fields spend the first few years with a dark cloud over their head. Are some of us doing it because we are masochists in a way? If you are a person who wishes for death I could see joining the profession. Some people relate to death. There must be quite a few people like me who study death because they see the inspiration and motivation to live in it. All we have ever known is existence. To imagine us not existing is an interesting task. I don't even know if it is possible to imagine death. Are we ever going to get an answer? Is it something we should even know while we are alive? Why the fuck do I feel like there is something we need to know about it though? Maybe we're not able to understand death until we experience it. I dunno. I'm tired. Many questions tonight.

It's time for some rest. I'm going to try watching a documentary on dreams to help me fall asleep. We'll see how it goes.