Portrait of Miranda Magee
Miranda Magee serves as a technician in UMMC’s morgue.
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People of the U: Miranda Magee

Published on Wednesday, November 4, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

Editor's Note: Front and Center is part of an ongoing series featuring UMMC's faculty, staff and students. See more Front and Center features.

It’s usually pretty quiet in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s morgue located in the basement of the old Adult Hospital.

But there was that time when an eerie beeping noise kept everyone company for a while.

“I kept hearing it get louder and louder,” said morgue technician Miranda Magee. “We were trying to figure out if someone had left their phone out. We didn’t know where it was coming from. Every time we did an autopsy, it made a creepy beep.”

Magee finally honed in on the noise and followed it to the source: a pacemaker that had been removed from a deceased patient during an autopsy. Although such devices usually are discarded, a pathology resident had inadvertently left it in a bucket in the room where autopsies are conducted.

A three-year morgue services staffer, Magee spends her days making sure that deceased patients get the final services they need. That can range from coordinating with funeral homes for their transport to assisting UMMC pathologists and residents in performing autopsies on patients whose families request that free procedure.

“Ambassador Services brings the decedents to the morgue,” Magee said. “We receive their paperwork from the hospital floor and their death certificate. If the next of kin wants us to do an autopsy, we do that.”

Families sometimes request an autopsy because they want affirmation of the diagnosis or cause of death given to them by physicians, Magee said.  “Those who don’t choose an autopsy normally have all the answers that they need.

“There are situations where we already know the cause of death, but the family might want to know if there were underlying medical conditions that might have contributed,” she said.

UMMC’s morgue also performs autopsies – only for natural deaths, and not known or suspected criminal cases – when requested by county coroners or the state medical examiner’s office.

Autopsies can be full, partial or only involve examination of an organ or organs, Magee said. It’s not a task for the squeamish or someone who can’t control their emotions.

“Working in the morgue, you have to be able to put your feelings to the side, even though you know the patients are someone’s loved ones,” she said. “We see babies, stillborns, newborns, children who have died from a range of medical conditions. We see gunshot and suicide victims. We can’t let our emotions get the best of us.

“I’m OK with seeing different decedents in different conditions and manners of death. We see death, all day, every day, and you have to be OK with that.”

What they can do is treat each patient with reverence and respect, knowing that they are indeed someone’s loved one, a friend, a family member. “I’m in contact with next of kin, funeral homes, coroners, doctors, nurses, pathologists – just a number of individuals on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Magee and her coworkers have a weekend rotation, making sure the morgue is staffed continuously, “Death doesn’t stop. We have to be open,” she said.

The number of decedents daily can vary from a few to a dozen, with Monday being a busy day following the weekend, Magee said. She and coworkers dress in full personal protective equipment ‘from head to toe” when performing autopsies, their procedure even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although being a morgue technician doesn’t require a specific certification, Magee holds an associate’s degree in mortuary science and recently completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Belhaven University. She’s currently earning her master’s degree in forensic psychology from the University of Louisiana.

Her education will translate into rich possibilities in the forensics field. “I’ve always had a love for forensics,” Magee said. “This will give me the chance to work in law enforcement, to be a victims’ advocate, to be a therapist or a counselor.”

Magee has the dedication required to do what some might see as a difficult job, said Mirna Vargas, anatomic pathology laboratory manager and Magee’s supervisor.

“She is always willing and available to lend a hand whenever needed, during and after hours,” Vargas said. “She maintains a positive and cheerful disposition. Miranda has developed an excellent rapport with funeral home personnel, coroners, doctors, nurses, residents and department managers.

“She ensures the proper and respectful transition of UMMC decedents to their final destination. She is an excellent and valuable morgue technician.”

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