Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Embalming Process Part 3

Sorry I've been away so long, but I started school this week. To recap: my rat Chuck passed away last Monday and I decided to mummify him in the Ancient Egyptian fashion. Before we resume, a warning:


I left off with washing Chuck and his organs in wine. I dried off the organs and placed them in a baking tin lined with muslin. I put a generous amount of natron salt on the bottom before placing the organs in and covering them with salt. When I had completely covered them I put them on a shelf in my kitchen to sit for 40 days.

When I returned to Chuck he was still pretty wet from his wine bath. I live in the damp Pacific Northwest. Since there was no chance of a desert wind passing by to dry him up I decided to improvise with a hairdryer. The most worrying aspect of embalming process is the risk of mold or rot. I figured if I got him super dry before packing him with natron, I would avoid those problems.

After his blow dry, I made little balls of natron with a square of muslin; I placed a spoonful of natron in the middle of the fabric, gathered the ends up so I made a little ball, then tied the top with thread. After I packed Chuck's abdominal cavity with natron balls, I sewed him up, one layer at a time. Then I turned him over to deal with the empty braincase. It was too small a space to pack with natron fabric balls, so I just poured natron inside until it was filled up, then I closed him up with thread.

Chuck was now as good as new and ready for eternity. I used another baking pan lined with muslin. Here's a picture of him looking a little like Ramses I. You can see the crude sutures in his side and my attempt to tie his hands in the position of a pharaoh. I buried him in a mound of natron. Currently he is lying in repose on top of my kitchen cupboard and will stay there for the next 40 days. I know it's a long wait for the next blog post, but I'm sure my one follower will stayed tune. Thanks for your support. And thank you Chuck!

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Embalming Process Part 2

To recap: my rat Chuck passed away on Monday and I decided to mummify him in the Ancient Egyptian fashion; this blog documents the process. Before we resume, a warning:


I left off yesterday with the description of how I removed the brain. Now I will describe the removal of the organs. First made an incision in Chuck's side. I was suppose to make the incision in his left side, but as you can see, I made it on his other left, my left. There may be ritual significance to doing it on the left, but I imagine it was a practical decision on the Ancient Egyptians part. Our bodies are very much analogous to rats (which is why they are used as test subjects for drugs, etc.), so it would just be easier to remove the organs from the left.
Unfortunately, I did not realize my error until after I sewed him back up. Oh well, right and left was never my best subject.

Again, thanks to the scalpel, getting through the layers of tissue was easy. The ribcage is clearly visible in this picture. I had to gently cut through the tissue adhered to the ribcage and pull it back before I could visualize his organs.

The Ancient Egyptians believed that in addition to one's body, the mummy would need certain organs to live in the Underworld: the liver, stomach, intestines, and lungs. The heart remained in the body so it could be weighed to see if the deceased was worthy of admittance into the Underworld.

In the next picture, you can see the intestines. Directly above them in the abdominal cavity are the liver, stomach. After some gently pulling and judicious cutting, I was able to remove all three organs.
During the procedure I frequently referenced a drawing of rat anatomy. It had been 25 years since my anatomy class, so my biggest fear was that I wouldn't recognize the organs. Chuck's insides were actually very straightforward and easily recognizable. My next challenge was removing the lungs, while leaving the heart inside. First I had to cut through the ribcage and spread it before I could even see the lungs. The right lung was huge and deformed, which indicates severe lung disease. Most pet rats have a bacterium called Mycoplasma pulmonis that makes them prone to respiratory infections.

As you can see from this picture the right lung is significantly bigger than the left. Now that I had all his organs out, I cleaned out the rest of the unwanted organs including the kidneys, then washed Chuck and his parts in wine. The Ancient Egyptians used palm wine, but I had to settle for a nice Sauvignon blanc. Here's a picture of the lungs, stomach, liver and intestines before I buried them in natron salt.

Tomorrow I'll finish up the embalming process and give you a preview of the cool stuff I will eventually bury Chuck and his organs in.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Embalming Process Part 1

In case you're just joining us, my rat Chuck passed away on Monday. I decided to mummify him in the Ancient Egyptian tradition instead of burying him. I preformed the embalming process this morning, which I will describe in detail over the next few days, but first a little warning...


Personally, I didn't find the process overly gross, but I've been an RN for 23 years and I'm currently the wound care specialist at my facility. In other words, I deal with a lot of gross on a daily basis, so I have no idea how a normal person would view this.

Just a couple of things before we get started. Last month I saw the King Tut exhibit at the new, post-apocalyptic prison-like De Young Museum in San Francisco. I also saw it when I was a kid and have been in love with Ancient Egypt ever since; my recent visit was definitely an inspiration for this project. Also, I forgot to mention in my previous post that I got the 12 pounds of sodium carbonate (natron salt) at a local pool supply store. OK, now to business.

I'll admit that even with all my clinical experience I was a bit apprehensive beforehand. Fortunately, I got over that quickly once I got started. Here's a picture of Chuck waiting patiently for his date with destiny.

The Ancient Egyptians felt that the brain was pretty much useless, so it was removed and discarded. Since I thought that getting out the brain would be hardest I started with that. I have no idea how the Egyptians removed the brains of their animal mummies, but with humans they stuck a hook up the nose, scrambled the brains until they liquefied, then they drained them out of the nose.

Since Chuck's snout was a lot smaller and longer than a human's I decided to go through the back of the head and into the cranium. Here's the first incision. I have to say that having a scalpel is a must. Another gal on on the web used an X-acto knife and had a lot of trouble even cutting through the first layer of skin, let alone the underlying tissue. The scalpel went right though it.

At this point I knew I had to punch through the back of the cranium, but I wasn't looking forward to the inevitable cracking sound. I used my suture scissors to drive a whole into the cranium and it did crack, but I got over it. I then scrambled the brain tissue (which I could not see) with the scissors and tried to drain them out. Of course, nothing came out so I went to plan B.

Since rats get sick a fair amount, I had tons of little 1 cc syringes laying around, so yes, I stuck a syringe inside his cranium and sucked his brains out. Disgusting, but effective.

Here's a clearer shot of the hole in the back of his head:

I think that's it for tonight, I'll take this up tomorrow evening when I get to the guts. I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait. Thanks to all who are following my blog and thanks to Chuck. He was a trooper throughout.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


My dear, sweet rat Chuck was humanly euthanized on Monday, August 24 at the age of 2 1/2 years. I had him and his brother Geoffrey since they were five weeks old. Here's Chuck during happier days:

I brought his remains home to bury him when a flash of inspiration hit me. Since Chucky was such a great rat I decided that a simple burial wouldn't do. Mummification in the ancient Egyptian tradition was much more fitting. Not that I had much of an idea how to do that. Thank goodness many have gone before me and there is tons of information on the web outlining the whole process. I went shopping today to get the various supplies needed. Here's my setup:

My scalpel and suture kit are sitting on a piece of muslin covering a disposable cookie sheet, where I will open Chuck up and take out his organs to be embalmed along with his body. The needle and thread will be used to sew Chuck up once his organs have been removed and he's been stuffed with muslin packets filled with natron salt. The rubber gloves will help me from getting too grossed out by the whole thing. The two containers in the back are 12 pounds of natron (sodium carbonate) which the Egyptians used to draw all the moisture out of the body during the forty day embalming process.

In subsequent posts I will be documenting the whole mummification process which will include graphic pictures of the dissection and embalming. Right now Chuck is defrosting in the fridge in order to begin his journey into the Egyptian underworld tomorrow morning. I think he's excited.