Interacting daily with the dead

In a society that literally fears death, looking at a dead person alone unnerves many people. Spending an hour or two next to a body is hard for most of us and it is common to spend a night inside the same room with a dead person. However, all the jitters about the dead are not part of Julius Kiprotich Kirui’s worries. He is the man who encounters dead people every working day. The badge that hangs around his neck indicates that Julius is the morgue attendant at Longisa Level 4 Hospital in Bomet County.

Julius is quick to point out the importance of his job that he considers a crucial part of the medical profession. “My work is at the terminal stage when the inevitable hand of death strikes and I come in to help them ‘sleep’ well,” Julius says while preferring to refer to death euphemistically as sleep. Julius says that while most people get worried whenever death strikes, he is among the few people who move in to take care of the dead person. He insists that there is no big physically difference between a living and a dead person except for the lack of breath in the latter.

 Whenever he receives a body at the morgue, he first takes down the details of the dead person and those of the next of kin. He undresses the body and then cleans it. He then treats the body using preservatives before putting it in the fridge until the family is ready to pick it. He will also be available to dress the body if the family members cannot do it.

“Some people are too overwhelmed that they find it hard to handle a dead relative and my assistance is required,” he says.

Julius points out that despite interacting with death every day, he is always emotional whenever he has to work on a child’s body. He philosophically says that life appears pointless when a person who has not even understood what life is, has to die.

“In addition to a child’s body, I also feel terribly bad whenever a person who dies of hunger is brought to the mortuary. It is so embarrassing when people have to die because they lack food,” he says.

Julius says that hunger in most cases kills the elderly members who are affected more by poverty.

Born 35 years ago, Julius Kirui sat his KCPE at Sosit Primary School but did not proceed to secondary school because of the usual culprit-lack of school fees. He was first employed as a herdsman before becoming a pick-up truck loader.

He got to work in hospital by chance when he joined a construction team for work at Kapaktet District Hospital. After the construction, he was employed as a casual cleaner before being given a job at the hospital’s kitchen.

However, fate had it that he had to lose the kitchen job due to what he calls ‘a mix up in the kitchen tenders’. He does not go deep about this.

The person who introduced him to mortuary work is one Dr Serem that he speaks of fondly as having taken time to teach him what goes on inside the morgue.

“Dr Serem taught me practically what needs to be done inside a mortuary as an attendant and before long I was accepted as a part time mortuary attendant at the same hospital that I had just quit as part of the kitchen staff,” he says.

Between 2003 and 2011 he worked at Kapkatet Hospital before moving to Longisa where he works to date.

Contrary to popular believe that morgue attendants have to be ‘high’ in order to function properly, Julius leads a normal life free of drugs. He says that he loves his job and needs no intoxication in order to work in the mortuary.

Julius, a father of three, stays with his family in the nearby Longisa market and he says that he does not hide his job from his family, friends and neighbours. Besides taking his children to school with his little pay, he has bought a reasonable piece of land where he intends to build a house soon.

The attendant hints that the condition at Longisa Hospital Mortuary has greatly improved due to the recent installation of new fridges that have helped clear the offensive smell that characterised the facility a few months ago.

“With the new machine in place, I find this facility very conducive not only for me as an attendant but also for the bodies preserved here and the bereaved families for they collect decent bodies unlike before,” he says.

Julius is open for further training if need be so as to make him a better mortuary attendant, a job that he says he will continue doing for as long as possible.

Surprisingly, Julius has been a temporary worker for the ten years that he has been working in mortuaries and he hopes that the county government will absorb him on permanent terms so as to enjoy benefits accorded to workers in the same status.

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