Inside The Grisly And Confronting World Of 'Trauma Cleaning'
When she was younger Sandra Pankhurst had the nickname "Mrs Sparkle". Today she is well-regarded as one of the country's top trauma cleaners.
For more than two decades Pankhurst has been running one of Australia's largest trauma cleaning businesses.
In that time she's built a career which has seen her clean countless homes following death, suicide, home invasion, hoarding and squalor.
On Thursday Pankhurst shared with Studio 10 how years of experience has helped her think outside the square and move beyond the confronting situations she faces every day.
Pankhurst recalled the feeling of walking into her first trauma cleaning job 26 years ago, which she said took a staggering 72 hours to work through.
"I couldn't believe how people could live... it was quite an incredible thing to come to terms with".
Pankhurst described how she and a friend were forced to use spades to lift up five layers of kitchen flooring which has been stapled and glued down.
"We learnt from experience," she said, recalling that they had "well under-quoted" the job.
Pankhurst who said she fell into the career because of personal adversity, told the Studio 10 panel how her own experience of trauma, including being abused as a child, left her with a passion to care for others.
She said every situation poses different challenges for trauma cleaners, including cases where cleaners had to work their way into properties clogged entirely by rubbish, or assess whether it is safe to work because of dilapidated roofs and walls.
Shovels, hammers, axes and specialist cleaning gear including gloves and masks are just some of the equipment Pankurst said her team has used, and added cleaners doubled as 'wildlife officers' often having to deal with rats and mice inside the buildings.
Pankhurst explained how houses in which a body has been decomposing for quite a while often result in body juices, which have acids that eat away at materiel, causing damage to walls, floors and mattresses.
But she said it was cleaning out hoarder houses that left her not only physically but mentally drained because hoarding is often linked to a mental health issue.
Pankhurst explained that hoarders are often resentful and embarrassed, which can result in a drawn-out process of convincing the person that the cleaning is being done their own way.
Well outside simply having a strong stomach, the job also requires a certain level of compassion.
Sharing a story of how she had saved personal trinkets while cleaning the house of a young heroin addict who had died, Pankhurst told the Studio 10 panel that her job was also about care and compassion.
"That's part of our theme to look after those that are left behind".
Pankurst is also the subject of a new book "The Trauma Cleaner" which details her life in "death, decay and disaster".
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