Slow Rise of Obesity - Part one: The transfer

    The funeral industry is a great indicator of society and our daily lives.  Through looking at funerals and death we can examine how we live, how we think, our beliefs, attitudes and more.  Our death and funerals do not simply reflect our lives or society.  Instead the we die is entangled with how we live; how we die is inseparable from how we live just as how we live is inseparable from how we die.

    I intend to explore this idea through first examining obesity in the funeral industry.  By doing this I intend to illustrate how we can look at things like obesity and funerals to look at changes in society and our lifestyles.

    Yet to truly understand this one must understand obesity and funerals.  How an obese body is different from a non-obese body and how an 'obese funeral' is done.  Thus I thought I would write three posts exploring obesity in the funeral industry.  Starting with the transfer, then handling of the body in the mortuary and finishing with the cremation and burial of an obese body.  So here is the first part, the transfer of an obese body.

    Many make an assumption here, we assume we know what 'obese' means and is.  How to recognise it and what it feels like.  Yet this is a major assumption, much of this post rests on the definition of 'obese'.  So to leave it undefined and unspecified is a bit of a gap. My definition of obese has four criteria.  Firstly and most obviously the body should be 'fat' as in medically.  The body will have a high fat content compared to other aspects like muscle.  This should not need much explanation as I am sure most people know what 'fat' means.  The second criteria is that the body must be wide.  A body might be heavy but also very tall.  This would mean the body wasn't obese.  On the other hand a body might be heavy, but not super heavy yet very also very short.  This would make it an obese body. The third and final criteria is that the body be heavier than an average body.  For this category anything over 70-80kg would fit my definition if the body meets the other two criteria.

    Simply an obese body needs to be these three things; heavy, wide and fat.

    I also differ on 'oversize' bodies.  In the industry one does not call a heavy or fat body 'obese' but instead calls them 'oversize'.  This refers to the fact that they might be heavy, but are more importantly larger than other bodies.  Plus it is a little more polite.  Yet I do not want to talk of 'oversize' as it is too vague and general.  Oversize also covers large bodies, as in tall or muscular.  Here I want to focus on the obese side, as in generally fat.  This makes my distinction of 'wide' all the more important.

    With that out of the way here is the first part, the transfer ob an obese body.  For those who do not know a 'transfer' is basically the act of collecting and moving a body.  If you want more details you can read this page detailing transfers.

    The transfer of an obese body is always more difficult than a non-obese body.  One will immediately think of how heavy an obese body is.  To move it requires more strength than other bodies.  On a transfer one has to get a body from where it is to the stretcher.  Quite a physical task in some situations. It becomes all the more difficult with a body weighing more than 80kg.

    Another thing with obese bodies is how they are more difficult to hold.  Not only are they heavy, but they 'move'.  As in the flesh one grabs tends to slip, tends to move about.  With most bodies one can grab the arms or hips and get a good grip.  However when one grabs an obese body by the hips they might not get solid flesh or bone but rather fat.  Which is squishy, and will slip.  An obese body is both heavy and difficult to hold.  So not only does one have to move 80kg of a long and bendy body, but one has to do so with little grip or hold of it.

    There is equipment designed to help move a body, although none of it is specifically designed for obese bodies (as far as I am aware).  For example 'slide sheets' are great for sliding a body out of small or awkward spot.  Yet InvoCare literature recommends using two for a body over 80kg.  The equipment is helpful, and almost essential with an obese body.  But at the end of the day it is the two transfer crew members who have to do the lifting and carrying.  All the equipment can do is assist and perhaps make the job a little easier.  It cannot however do the work for the crew.

    If the transfer crew is lucky the body will be in a bed or on a tray.  Say in a hospital mortuary, or in a bedroom on a single sized bed.  This means one just has to slide the body over onto the stretcher, much easier than lifting the body.  While this is quite simple and easy with most bodies an obese one makes even this task difficult.  An obese body cannot simply be slid over.  As I stated before sometimes getting grip is tricky and then they weigh more.  There is a higher chance the obese body will fall or get stuck between the stretcher and bed.  Also when sliding an obese body one is sliding more weight.  If this weight gets momentum when being slid it might 'continue' and topple the stretcher.  Just think about pushing a trolly with 10kg in it and how easy it is to stop.  Now push a trolly with 30kg in it and you will notice how more effort it needed to stop it.  Well it's the same thing with an obese body.  It might slide over to the stretcher too quickly. and then be almost impossible to stop.  In sliding an obese body the crew has to brace themselves against the stretcher more so than with other bodies.

    The next issue is the stretcher itself.  Stretchers are not wide, just like an ambulance stretcher.  Quite often the body will overhang the stretcher on each side.  Simply put stretchers were designed to fit into a car, and not designed to carry an obese body.  Looking at an obese body overhang a stretcher you can clearly see a growing change in society.  How this design worked well before, but is now too small for some people.  I remember one case where an obese body barely fit on the stretcher.

    It is the same for body bags.  They are rather lage to start with, but sometimes they need a bit of pushing to get certain bodies inside.  An obese body might only just fit in a body bag.  Plus then these bags arte more lightly to rip or tear under the weight.  Both the bags and stretchers were not designed for obese bodies.

    Once the body is on the stretcher the next step is loading it into the van.  Again, the obese body means this is a little more difficult.  Firstly lifting the stretcher needs more effort, but it is not impossible.  However it is putting it into the car which might take work.  If the body overhangs the stretcher then it takes more room than the stretcher in the car.  Sometimes, if there is a body already in there, then it might require a bit of force to squeeze the body and stretcher in.  The transfer crew might have to actually push and press the body until it slots into place.  In other words transfer cars, with a decade old design, are sometimes not quite big enough for certain bodies.

    InvoCare now apparently run special training programs for moving an obese bod.  This is in addition to their transfer and manual handling training programs.  Even in the standard manual handling training they make special mention of obese bodies, calling them "heavy/oversize".  They need a special training program for obese bodies which did not even exist a few years ago.

    I also overheard rumours of new special equipment for transferring obese bodies.  Yet I do not put any real faith in this rumour as the source was not very reliable and this industry is slow to change or implement equipment and tools.  What caught my attention and why I mention it is the thought that new equipment is needed.  Tools that were deigned decades ago and have been in use fine until lately are no longer working well enough.  Things like stretchers, which have remained relatively the same since at least the 1960s, and are the same dimensions as stretchers used in WWI.

    It is not only the medical field that faces this issue.  That the tools and equipment can no longer handle a lot of people.  The funeral industry is also looking at the problem, and it is a costly one.  Tools are not cheap, a regular collapsable stretcher can cost well over $2,000 for the basic model.  Imagine the cost of a wider and reinforced one for obese bodies.  Plus then the new stretcher would no-longer fit  in the regular transfer vehicles.  Which means a whole new redesign and new transfer vehicle.
    Keep reading for my next part on processing an obese body in the mortuary!

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