Embalming A to Z: Vibration

Date Published: 
August, 2005
Original Author: 
Todd Van Beck
A S Turner and Sons, Decatur, Georgia
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, August-September 2005

The contemporary reader will say WHAT? Vibration and embalming—what is he talking about? Let me begin at the beginning. One of the greatest aspects of my life and career has been my good fortune in observing, working, learning and being friends with highly skilled embalmers.

One of those embalmers was a man named C.  Wayne Livingston. He was connected for years with the old Woodring Funeral Home in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Wayne's son, Vaughn, and I were close friends, and I used to hang around the Woodring facility regularly.

Wayne Livingston was a great embalmer. He had great skill and technique in all aspects of embalming, but the one which stands out in my memory is that he had a vibrating embalming table. It's true! Some of the veteran embalmers who read this will well remember this piece of preparation room equipment.

I had the honor of watching Mr. Livingston embalm many cases on this particular table, and I would like to reflect for a moment on the superior results that I witnessed at the hands of this skilled professional.

Let's review some basics in embalming circulation. We know that during life, the application of vibration to any part of the body will produce hyperemia, which is an excess of blood in a part of the body. In addition, any type of vibration is also a form of massage.

However, with a vibrating embalming table, the massage affects the posterior of the body, the entire body—and is continuous.

All embalmers are familiar with the favorable effects produced by the judicious use of gentle massage with the hands on certain parts of the dead human body before and during the arterial injection.

It is a definite aid in clearing discolorations and at the same time emptying the tissues so as to obtain better fluid distribution.

Then too, embalmers are familiar with the possible adverse effects—over dehydration and swelling—that can occur when the hand massage is too aggressively used during arterial injection.

With this background, let us now examine the "how" of table vibration. First of all, how do you make an embalming table vibrate?

Mr. Livingston rigged up his own vibration system by attaching two barber vibrators (the type which barbers use to massage head and shoulders) to the head and foot underneath the table.

This type of vibrator has a regulator on it so you can control the degree of intensity of the vibration. Sometimes Mr. Livingston would use one device, either at the head or feet. In other cases, he would use both simultaneously.

As I watched this master embalmer at work, it was clear that the same degree of vibration would not be satisfactory on every embalming operation. It was also evident that far more blood and other body fluids were drained than in cases where vibration was not used.

When the potential existed for over dehydration, Mr. Livingston would add 8 ounces of a quality humectant chemical to the last half-gallon and inject this under closed drainage to seal in the humectant effect.

Today I do not know of any manufacturer of embalming tables making one that vibrates. However, I suspect that a few embalmers reading this article just might become another Wayne Livingston and rig one up in order to further ensure quality embalming. In the end, is this not the vision for which we strive?