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The Rigor Mortis of it all

Written by on Nov 20, 2020

Let’s chat about our o’l pal, Mort The Third of His name.

Yes, I know, I know… it has been ages since I last told you tales from the mortuary slab. Life happens, death too! In this instance not the literal sense of a dead body, six feet under. This was a far greater, more liberating death for me, I experienced the death of being a slave to the corporate rhythm as one Grace Jones a.k.a. the Queen of Fucking everything once sang.

In a sense, it freed me from becoming a “stiff”. Ha, what’s that?

A segway into the first topic? Yes, I went there.

Many of you will already be familiar with our first friend good O’l Rigor Mortis. We all know that rigor mortis happens after death and is probably the stiffest some old ladies have seen their husbands in years, on average rigor sets in 2 – 4 hours after death, and depending on how you lost the match with the Grim Reaper it may last for several days.

Fret not, if this happens your friendly neighborhood mortician will be able to break rigor with various massages and muscle manipulations and you will look like you are having your peaceful post-Netflix binge nap once more. Think of it as a spa day, only you’re dead and honestly, if you look at the harmful chemicals that some embalmers use, you’re the lucky one. Think of the living that still has to deal with the effects on the environment from embalming fluids and everything else to make you look like well “you” and here is the thing you are not “you” anymore, the essence that used to be your dazzling personality has departed from its vessel so why are we so afraid of natural burials? Why do we put so many chemicals through a loved one’s body just so that they can look alive again?

I am legitimately curious about your thoughts around this, so slide into my dm’s with your comments or questions.

Eco burial rant aside, rigor mortis helps medical examiners determine the time of death should you take that joke a little too far and piss your wife off a tad too much, resulting in your murder. Not only does it help the M.E. establish the time of death but whether the body was moved after death.

So what happens when your body goes into rigor?

Initially when you die you enter the stage of primary flaccidity, basically your whole body relaxes and all the muscles in your body soften and your mouth might fall open as well, however, after a few hours, the muscles in your body will start to contract and stiffen, often starting with the facial muscles, your neck muscles the following suit. From there the rigor creeps down your back eventually stopping in your limbs leaving you looking like an extra from a Michael Jackson music video.

Why does this happen?

Without getting too technical, the body releases the perfect amount of Calcium and ATP to facilitate this. Muscles stiffen because your cells are being broken down by digestive enzymes, it is a normal part of decomposition and has its own scientific word: Autolysis. The breakdown of the cells creates holes for calcium ions to sneak through. Normally your brain would be making sure that the calcium ions are released, but in this instance, it is basically just grey chunky soup. The lack of ATP (the energy supplying molecule in your muscle cells) plays a role as well. Think of it as a dance, once the calcium ions have the beat going and initiates the muscle contraction Myosin joins the party. Who is Myosin? Myosin is that typical boet with his protein and gains that makes things move around in the cell. Once Myosin binds with Actin his protein-obsessed long chain of protein counterpart that forms the “skeleton” of the cell Myosin uses the energy from ATP to pull Actin closer, making your muscle fibers shorter and shorter, resulting in stiff muscles.

when the decomposition process has started the muscles will start to decompose as well and the rigor will go away naturally, however, if let’s say your family wants a viewing asap the mortician might gently massage your muscles until rigor breaks and the embalming process will begin, should you wish to go that route.

Keep an eye out for Mort the first, Second, and Fourth in my upcoming posts.

Until then, remember: It’s OK to decay

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