A Critical Overview of What Happens to Your Body After Death
Death has always been shrouded in mystery, as it marks the transition from life to an unknown state of being. However, forensic experts have uncovered some of the bizarre occurrences that happen to the body after it dies. While some of these phenomena may seem like oddities, they can serve as crucial indicators to determine the cause of death. This article examines some of the weird things that happen to the body when it dies, and the scientific explanation behind them.
Purple Skin: Livor Mortis One of the common sights associated with dead bodies is the pale skin. However, the underside of a corpse reveals a different story. The areas around the shoulder blades, curves of the back, or any part of the body where blood has pooled up are purplish and splotchy. This phenomenon is called livor mortis, which is a natural process that occurs soon after death when the heart stops pumping. Blood starts pooling up in the blood vessels due to gravity, giving the skin a purplish hue. Joye M. Carter, M.D., the chief forensic pathologist at the Indiana University School of Medicine, explains that livor mortis could happen in any position a person dies in, whether lying face up, face down, or on their side.
Erections: A Misconception Another strange occurrence that can happen to a dead body is an erection. It’s a common misconception that when a man dies lying face down, blood pools up in the penis, creating the appearance of an erection. However, forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, M.D., co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, notes that this phenomenon is rare. In contrast, a more common sight is a discharge near the penis due to the passive seeping of fluid from the prostate gland. This can give the impression of ejaculation, but it is just a leakage, not the actual act.
Flatulence Through the Mouth: A Gaseous Afterlife As the body dies, immune cells stop working, creating a hospitable environment for bacteria from the gut and upper respiratory tract to invade the bloodstream and start feasting on the blood and tissues. The bacteria release a lot of foul-smelling gas, which gets trapped in the intestines and stomach, leading to bloating. This gas can escape through the mouth or butt, resulting in flatulence. Dr. Melinek describes the smell as a mixture of flatulence, vomit, and decomposition.
Twitches: Lingering Brain Activity The idea of a corpse suddenly popping up from its coffin is the stuff of horror movies. However, the body can make sudden spastic movements, even after death. According to Dr. Carter, this happens because the body can still fire off random, jerk-like movements as long as it has some last-minute, lingering brain activity. For instance, if the brainstem or spinal cord is not completely damaged, a gunshot wound to the head can cause some twitches during the death process.
Moans and Groans: Escaping Air When medical practitioners attempt to resuscitate a person, they pump extra air into the patient’s lungs and stomach. After death, the air can still escape, particularly when someone applies pressure to the chest or stomach while moving the body. The air flows past the vocal cords, producing a grunting sound that can be unsettling to hear. Dr. Melinek notes that this has been known to scare medical students and first-year residents in the morgue.
Conclusion The phenomenon of what happens to the body after death has been an intriguing and macabre subject of interest for many. While some of these phenomena may seem bizarre, they are valuable to forensics and quest for understanding about life and death.