Write: For Those Writers Out There That Need to Know About the Decomp Process

I looked this information up when I wrote this short piece the other day. Then I thought, “why not share this information with other writers?” Because at some point, you need to know about dead bodies, right?

Or is it just me? 😀

By the way, word to the wise, DON’T Google images for decomp. You’re welcome.

Believe it or not, decomposition begins as soon as you die; it starts deep into the digestive system, where the intestinal flora [bacteria that live in our intestines and that are crucial for the proper functioning of the gut] begin to multiply exponentially and to feed on your internal organs, the same organs they helped protect when you were alive. This process is called autolysis and it begins as the dead body begins to cool off, a few minutes after death. The external signs of putrefaction [bloating, marbling of the skin tissue, swollen and protruding tongue, seepage of fluids from every imaginable orifice, odor of rotting meat] may start to show as soon as a few hours after death, depending greatly on the environmental factors surrounding the corpse. In general, a corpse lying out in the open and exposed to high temperatures and humidity can become completely skeletonized in as few as 10 days to a month, at the most. Areas of the body which have sustained injury or trauma decompose much more rapidly than those which are not injured. However, a corpse that’s been carefully embalmed, put into a sealed casket and interred in a place where there’s little moisture can be exhumed and still be nearly intact several months or even years after the demise.

The following is a copy/paste of an article called “The 26 Stages of Death”, the original of which is located at here.

Moment of Death:
1} The heart stops
2} The skin gets tight and grey in color
3} All the muscles relax
4} The bladder and bowels empty
5} The body’s temperature will typically drop 1.5 degrees F. per hour unless outside environment is a factor. The liver is the organ that stays warmest the longest, and this temperature is used to establish time of death if the body is found within that time frame.

After 30 minutes:
6} The skin gets purple and waxy
7} The lips, finger- and toe nails fade to a pale color or turn white as the blood leaves.
8} Blood pools at the lowest parts of the body leaving a dark purple-black stain called lividity
9} The hands and feet turn blue {because of lack of oxygenation to the tissues}
10} The eyes start to sink into the skull

After 4 hours:
11} Rigor mortis starts to set in
12} The purpling of the skin and pooling of blood continue
13} Rigor Mortis begins to tighten the muscles for about another 24 hours, then will reverse and the body will return to a limp state.
After 12 hours:
14} The body is in full rigor mortis.

After 24 hours:
15} The body is now the temperature of the surrounding environment
16} In males, the spermatozoa die.
17} The head and neck are now a greenish-blue color
18} The greenish-blue color continues to spread to the rest of the body
19} There is the strong smell of rotting meat {unless the corpse is in an extremelly frigid environment}
20} The face of the person is essentially no longer recognizable

After 3 days:
21} The gases in the body tissues form large blisters on the skin
22} The whole body begins to bloat and swell grotesquely. This process is speeded up if victim is in a hot environment, or in water
23} Fluids leak from the mouth, nose, eyes, ears and rectum and urinary opening

After 3 weeks:
24} The skin, hair, and nails are so loose they can be easily pulled off the corpse
25} The skin cracks and bursts open in many places because of the pressure of Internal gases and the breakdown of the skin itself
26} Decomposition will continue until body is nothing but skeletal remains, which can take as little as a month in hot climates and two months in cold climates. The teeth are often the only thing left, years and centuries later, because tooth enamel is the strongest substance in the body. The jawbone is the densest, so that usually will also remain.


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Hi! My day job is a CMA in neurosurgery.. I'm a mom to two twenty-something sons. I've been married to the same man for 26 years. I have a lot to say about nothing. Lucky you.