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My story: Lisa the deaf mortician

Guest Guest | 11:26 UK time, Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Lisa Jones 39 year old deaf mortician in lab coat

Lisa can't lip-read colleagues with face masks

Lisa Jones is a mortician at the Staffordshire NHS trust. She works alongside the Forensic Service in special cases such as Home Office murder inquiries. She's deaf and is profiled on this week's See Hear programme. Here she tells us about her job and how she got there.

In the mortuary, no one can hear you scream, well, I know I can't anyway.

Being deaf hasn't stopped me choosing a career as a mortician, or to be politically correct, an Anatomical Pathology Technician.

It wasn't my first option, though. I announced to my parents when I was six years old: "When I grow up, I'm going to work with plants and explore the jungle."

It was to the same tune that I graduated from Durham University with a Biological Sciences degree under my belt. I had planned to be a botanist and was looking forward to finding new plants in exotic places. My final uni project was about insect interactions with sunflowers.

I was ready to take on the world of botany ... but an impromptu work experience stint at a local hospital laboratory completely changed my life forever. Plants be damned.

I've been working as a mortician for nine years, and for 15 as a biomedical scientist for the NHS Trust. I am profoundly deaf and even though my main communication method is speech, I also use Sign Supported English - or a dodgy style of British Sign Language, for those that know me.

Obviously being a mortician is not for everyone. Despite all the crime dramas such as CSI and Silent Witness, people think that working in an autopsy room is all high tech and glamorous. I can tell you now it isn't. Specialist tests do not take minutes to reveal the identity of a murderer, nor does a retinal scan of a detached eyeball reveal what the victim had for breakfast.

I very clearly remember my first post mortem, performed on an elderly man who had died of a suspected heart attack. The pathologist had completed an external examination and was about to ask the mortician to start the evisceration (organ removal). As soon as the knife penetrated the skin, all heads turned to me to check whether I was still standing or retching up all down my scrubs. Actually, I was totally engrossed in the procedure and was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I had found my calling.

I've never really considered my deafness to be a hindrance in my career although there can be a few issues which push the boundaries. For example, during Home Office post mortems in which DNA sensitive murders are being investigated, the Scene Of Crime Officers are quite often dressed from head to toe in little white pixie outfits complete with face masks that render lip-reading virtually impossible.

The chatter of police radios in the background can obliterate normal conversation. Complex medical terms mumbled by forensic pathologists can be difficult to understand too. In these circumstances, the lab can be a lonely world for a deaf person who doesn't take the initiative to explain deaf awareness and how communication issues can be overcome.

Other regular challenges include: handling the aftermath of a suicide or sudden death, explaining to grieving families why we need to perform a post mortem on their loved one, dealing with doctors who have challenging accents, the emergency services and undertakers ; all which have to be dealt with in their own way.

With the proper dedication and effort, deafness should not be a barrier to anyone looking towards a similar career.

• Watch Lisa on See Hear this Wednesday 6 February at 10:30am on BBC Two - the new time for the long-running programme for deaf viewers.

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