When I asked cartoonist Josua to draw me a human body being embalmed, he looked horrified and tentative. But seeing how dead serious I was, he took control of himself and began asking me how I’d like the sketch to look.
He couldn’t make heads or tails of my description, which confused me because I was giving it in the simplest of terms. Poor Josua hasn’t watched a body being embalmed and had no idea of how it should be drawn.
“Six Feet Under” has exposed me to the world of embalming, which embalmers naturally consider to be an art. But two authors suggest that given the right chemical solutions, a few tools and some knowledge of the human anatomy, you can do it yourself, assuming you don’t faint and wake up on the embalming table.
Now this was what confused Josua. When I was describing to him how the sketch should look, he was imagining the dead person trying to embalm himself. He took “do it yourself” to mean the dead guy. I explained some more, semaphoring a frigid body with cotton plugged in its nose and being cut open by another person, before Josua realized that I was talking of two people—one dead, the other alive.
Anyway, in their hilarious and medically faithful book “Let’s Play Doctor,” Mark Leyner and Dr. Billy Goldberg give a clear guide on “do-it-yourself embalming.” I suppose that they tucked a short section on embalming in their 206-page book to warn their readers that if doctors fail to keep you alive, you might as well have an idea of what happens to you when you’re dead.
Do-It-Yourself Embalming, as prescribed by emergency medicine physician Goldberg and movie and tv show writer Leyner:
1. Place body on embalming table, and pack the oral cavity and eyes with cotton. (So I was wrong about the cotton-stuffed nose.)
2. Inject the embalming fluid (generally a mixture of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol and ethanol) into the right common carotid artery (the large blood vessel that carries blood to the head), and drain blood from the right jugular vein.
3. Insert trocar (long needle attached to hydro-aspirator) above belly button, aspirate all major organs in torso (meaning remove them), and then fill cavity with concentrated formaldehyde solution.
4. Remove trocar, wash body thoroughly, and seal incisions.
5. Dress in stylish yet comfortable attire, coif hair, and apply makeup. (Make sure makeup does not give face a deathly pallor or masklike appearance—keep it simple and natural!)
And oh, don’t drop dead while you’re doing the procedure. You need to get the work done. You wouldn’t want the dead guy looking cadaverous.