The Myth About Nigerians Washing Dead Bodies In The US
Emem Unwana gently and patiently feeds her aged and sick patient inside this nursing and assisted living home in Southern United States. Her patient is 91 years old. She is incontinent and in the last stages of living. Her family brought her to the nursing home five years ago. The family could no longer give their mother the care and support she deserves, the remainder of her life. She also has Alzheimer’s disease.
When she was brought to the nursing home five years ago, Emem in a far away small town in Nigeria was in her last months of the national youth service. The two were seven thousand miles apart, not knowing how their paths would cross.
“I graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with honors in Chemistry. After my national youth service, securing employment became a huge challenge. I moved back home to Calabar. There was no job and no hope for a fresh graduate. Friends helped me to seek life in America. Jebose, here I am today as a Certified Nurses Aid worker. I never dreamt of this, coming to America. But when life happens to you, you learn to adjust fast and move forward. At least, that’s what I have learnt here”.
“A CNA is a health care professional who provides health care services to patients and facility residents. They are also called nursing aides or orderlies. CNA provides basic health care services to clients. Job responsibilities vary based on where you work and live. CNAs often work in a wide variety of settings like nursing homes, hospitals, adult day care centres, personal homes and assisted living facilities. They act as helpful liaison between the RN or LPN and the patient. In many cases, CNAs serve as the RN’s or LPN’s eyes and ears, and relays information between many patients and nurses. This is one of the easiest health care professions, with least training and requirement that are available to immigrants in America, especially, female immigrants.
Few months after Emem came to the United States, she paid $300 to be certified as a CAN. Certification included a three-week training or classes, organised by a state licensed or accredited health institution. After the three weeks course, the student then takes a county, city or state certified examination in practical and theory. An applicant is expected to make over 80 per cent score in order to be certified. He/she, after certification, can work in any hospital or nursing home or assisted living home.
Emem, who chose to give one name only, continued thus:“Back home, people think you just come to America and get this job. You go through training and certifications to be able to work in such public health and care-giving environment. There are myths and lies through the years that most Nigerians doing this job in the western world are washing dead bodies in America or Europe. It’s ignorance.”
Emem’s patient, through her family, instructed the Nursing Home that she didn’t want to be resuscitated in case of heart attack or seizure at 91.
“One of the silliest conversations trending in Nigeria’s social media is that Nigerians wash dead bodies to survive in Europe and America. Nigerians at home even say ‘Tufiakwa’ to the ‘disgusting’ job of washing dead bodies overseas. But are dead bodies bathed or washed in these continents by immigrant workers, especially Nigerians? We lack information and as such, allow rumours, innuendos, silly and sensational myths to becloud our minds. It is absolutely difficult for anyone to earn income from washing dead bodies in America or any western nation. In the United States, when someone dies, either violently or naturally, the first responders are emergency medical services alongside the medical examiner’s office. The body is then moved to the mortuary. The responders are professionals. Most of these med teams earn good money. Medical Examiners earn between $35,000 and $75,000 per year. Fresh dead bodies are usually deposited in county hospitals or in the mortuary of the hospital where the patient died. In homicide cases, dead bodies are transported to the county hospital morgue where the coroner performs autopsy to determine cause of death. Then the body would be released to the family of the deceased through a funeral home of their choice. Funeral homes are operated by certified morticians and mortuary directors. The funeral home would contact the hospital to inform it that the family of the deceased had requested it to pick the body to its funeral home where the deceased would be prepared for dignified burial,” he explained.
Mr. Carlton Grey is the director of Carlton Funeral homes and Cremation Services in Raleigh, North Carolina. He shares his experience in this regards thus: “In the United States, caring for deceased bodies is a profession. Those in this noble field are referred to as morticians, embalmers, funeral directors, undertakers. Yes, you must be licenced by the state in which you apply, to work and carry out these functions. Every state has its own requirements and rules in place. The salaries are like most jobs; depending on the area and cost of living. The earnings could be between $35,000 and $75,000, depending on experience.
“Part of the requirements include graduate from an accredited school of mortuary science and passing a state board exam in the state in which you wished to practise. You will also be required to do an internship, usually ranging from one year to two years in a funeral home. It is unusual for anyone to wash dead bodies in the United States because of regulations. Embalmers and their assistants perform these tasks of bathing a dead body. Public health is a very serious concern here. Once a person is dead at home, the family calls 911: the first responders to the scene of death are usually the police, emergency medical service and medical examiner who would record necessary preliminary information with regards to the deceased. The process doesn’t give room for anyone to get hired as a dead body washer. There is no such, not to my knowledge.”
Midnight Monday, Emem’s patient, the 91-year-old woman died. Emem who worked the night shift, went to check on her at midnight, to clean, change her diapers and make sure she was covered as she slept.
“When I got there, she wasn’t breathing. I checked her pulse. She was asleep so peacefully and beautifully. I followed procedures and called the hospice home. I also checked her file to see whom to contact when she died. I called her daughter. The hospice care staff arrived within fifteen minutes to confirm her death. She called the emergency and they came and took her to the hospital morgue. It is sad. You get attached to these old people as a care giver. It can be really emotional. You cared for a person almost ten hours each day and for five days. You can definitely get attached to that person. I did. I didn’t wash her body or bathe her. She was removed by EMS to the hospital morgue. Life goes on, Mr. Jebose.”
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