by Nick Fierro

Nicole Angemi is one tough mother, end of story.

Wait, scratch that, it’s actually just the beginning of the story. This South Jersey mom of three has reached celebrity status for her gruesomely informative and unapologetic accounts of the field of human pathology, or (double-checks Wikipedia) the causes and effects of disease or injury. Basically, if it can go wrong with you, she’s the one to hold it up to the light and explain why, how, if and when it could happen to you. This pathologist assistant from Camden County, New Jersey, doesn’t skip a single gag-inducing detail, and as any of her 2 million followers can tell you, it is virtually impossible to look away.

Through her Instagram account (@Mrs_Angemi), Angemi tries to capture the grisly wonder of the human machine when it’s at its worst. Often decayed, ruptured, inflamed, cancerous and broken, she shines a light on the comforting notion that we are indestructible and shows us that we are all, completely and totally…not.

“I feel like when people look at my page they want to know what’s going on. They want the same answers I do,” Angemi says as she analyzes her own macabre magnetism. “I always think to myself, ‘What led to this? How did this happen? Is this gonna happen to me? How can I prevent this from happening to me? I try not to post pictures unless I have real answers.

“The whole thing is super organic,” she continues. “I just do what I want to do. I sort of base it around what I hate about other people’s accounts. People follow my page mostly because they’re interested in pathology and what I’m showing. It’s not really about me, it’s about me teaching.”

Those “real answers” that Angemi is in search of often come with an exorbitant price. This is not the first incarnation of her Instagram account, as she has been booted from the platform a number of times for violating the strict community guidelines.

“There’s a lot of censorship on Instagram,” she explains. “There’s a lot of pathology that I can’t show because I can’t show boobs, I can’t show a penis, I can’t show a vagina or a butthole—that is super juicy pathology to me. It’s like, ‘Oh, did you get cancer on your penis and have to get it amputated? I can’t show that on Instagram.’”

This small and mildly unsettling setback has only inspired Angemi to seek out other avenues of education for her eager fans, resulting in the resounding success of The Gross Room—a members-only peek behind the curtain to the world of a human dissector available through her website TheDuraMater.com, an in-depth, uncensored and extensive look at some of history’s most shocking and often misunderstood misfortunes. From Kurt Cobain to Princess Diana, Angemi engages in a pathological dissection of history’s most horrendous anomalies.   

“I don’t have any limitations there,” Angemi explains, reflecting on the freedom afforded to her through her members-only “Gross Room.” “I can write five pages worth of text, put as many pictures as I want, I can do whatever. Every week I do a celebrity or a high-profile case. Right now I’m doing this one on a woman named Dawn Branchaeu, [who] was killed by an orca whale while working at Seaworld.  What I do is, I get ahold of her autopsy reports and then dissect the autopsy. I try to rewrite it in my own words to explain, and then I show pictures of what it looked like at her autopsy.”

The Gross Room isn’t gore for the sake of gore. Angemi has a genuine admiration and curiosity for the inner workings of the body and all of the maladies that can complicate it. She seems to view anything that can go wrong physiologically as an opportunity to learn, and she has found an audience with like-minded rubberneckers who want to stare at the car crash a little longer, hoping to unearth something new and strange.

Photo by Maria Aponte

Photo by Maria Aponte

Nicole is our favorite type of person—an expert in her field, an aficionado of the bizarre, and a true iconoclast that just happens to be tattooed knuckles to neck, toes to temples, a decision that has lent itself to a host of hurdles along her journey.

“I got my first tattoo when I was 15 and started working on my sleeves when I was 18 or 19,” Angemi recalls. “I knew I was going to be working in a lab, so I started with the intention of going right below the elbow, but even my mom was like, ‘What’s the point? If you wear a short-sleeve shirt you can’t cover it anyway.’ When I got hired at the hospital, I had full sleeves. Everyone knew, but I wore a lab coat all the time. When I got my hands done I took off for a while because I was going to a conference for pathology. I was able to not wear gloves for two weeks so I got them done right before I went away.

“I’ve had some issues in my career over tattoos,” she continues. “I worked in Philly for 13 years, but then as soon as I worked in the suburbs, you’d think they’d never seen a tattoo in their life. A lot of hospitals have really strict rules about them and people don’t want to risk affecting their job. I had to wear gloves when I went to the cafeteria. It’s like, do you think it’ll look better if I go into the cafeteria right now wearing gloves? People are going to think I have a disease. I don’t have anything offensive tattooed on me. It’s just hearts and butterflies. It ended up working out because eventually I went to another location at the same hospital which was a little more low key.”

Angemi has successfully staked her claim as the internet’s premier pathologist. Her body of work incorporates not only her devotion to pathology and the inner workings of the human machine, but her devotion to the artwork that she has covered herself in, decorating the vessel that she is fully aware will one day expire and decay. “I was very scared of death as a child and teenager, just constantly worried about it,” she shares. “I think it was good for me to learn about it because it makes it less scary.” Which begs the question at this point, after everything that she’s seen, does she find anything unsettling?

“Maggots are really a thing for me,” she says. “The very first autopsy I cut by myself was a person who was extremely decomposed, but that didn’t bother me so much. When I work in the hospital, I work on amputated legs that have maggots on them and it makes my skin crawl. I feel like with dead people, you just expect them to be gross, but that leg just came off of a person that was alive. I can’t deal with maggots on living people. I just feel like I want to go home and take a shower.”