GREAT QUESTIONS!!!! I know TONS about this! I deal with people dying almost every time I work, so I'm pretty familiar with this process. Of course the process is different if you die outside the hospital, but that's doesn't sound like what you are looking for so here we go!!!
After Death Care
1. As soon as my patient dies, I, the nurse, contacts the family. Often that means just walking into the room and telling them their family member's heart has stopped. I express my sympathies and offer them food, drink, tissues, etc. I encourage them to stay with their family member to take their time to grieve.
2. Then I contact several people very quickly. First is the doctor. If the death was unexpected, often the doctor is already there. However, often times we know they are about to die and are just waiting. In either case, the doctor needs to be present to pronounce time of death. The doctor will also ask the family if they want an autopsy. Autopsy is not available if the patient died due to a communicable disease (like COVID) and most family members do not want autopsies in my experience. Autopsies are only required by law if homicide is suspected or if the body was altered by a fire.
3. Second, I contact the chaplain who coordinates with the family's chosen mortuary. In some hospitals this role is fulfilled by a palliative care team, hospice team, or social worker instead of a chaplain. The chaplain talks to the family, providing comfort and talking them through the next steps. This includes choosing a mortuary if they haven't already. Most hospitals allow families to stay in the room with the family member for up to two hours before we need to take the body down to the morgue, but some hospitals allow longer or less or don't have a set policy.
4. Third, I contact donor services. Based on the information I give donor services (cause of death, age, chronic diseases) they will determine if the patient is eligible for organ or tissue donation. Most people are not eligible for organ donation, but are for tissue donation. Eye donation is also pretty common. If the patient is eligible a representative from donor services will come to speak to the next of kin about donation. Nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff NEVER do this and I'm super glad that there is a policy against speaking about donation to family members at my hospital. I don't like talking about it personally.
5. I may or may not do a little bit of postmortem care just to make the person appear to be sleeping for the family. This includes removing a breathing tube if it is place, closing their mouth, turning off monitors, and removing obstructing machines (like IV pumps, central monitoring devices, or ventilators). As a side note, I don't know why every TV show has heart monitors making that annoying beeping sound continuously, but they don't beep continuously. Any noise that comes from monitors is always an alarm to notify the nurse that something needs attention. I will very quickly silence those alarms while I assess the situation, because they are VERY annoying. The alarm that signals cardiac death or asystole is not a straight tone like seen in movies. It is a loud beeping alarming sound and I pretty much turn that off as soon as I walk in the room after a patient dies. (That's assuming it is an expected death. If it unexpected and we were doing CPR, someone is always around silencing the alarms. Codes are actually pretty quiet, because we just can't think with an alarm blaring. We all know the person's heart has stopped, we don't need an alarm telling us that. haha.)
6. After the family leaves (usually after an hour or two), I with some of my nurse friends will prepare the body to be taken to the morgue. (In some hospitals during daytime hours the mortuary will actually come to pick up the patient directly from their room, assuming they are not a candidate for organ donation or autopsy or the family refused both.) I clean the body with wipes, remove all IV lines, tubes, monitors, etc., and remove all clothes and personal items (like rings which can become stuck on the patient if left too long after death due to swelling and rigor mortis). I actually try to send jewelry with the family before they leave, but otherwise these personal items just go with them to the morgue and then to the mortuary. For example, if a patient doesn't have any known family or they can't come for some reason, a person's phone, rings, clothing, and shoes will just travel with them until they reach the mortuary. Wallets we keep on the unit in a lock box until a family member can come pick them up, because they usually contain personal information which is a liability if lost. We label everything with a patient sticker including the patient! They get a tag on their chest, around their toe, and keep their patient arm band on their wrist. Then I put them in a white body bag (double bag for communicable diseases) and call the morgue to come pick them up.
7. The morgue transports them from their room on a metal gurney with a sheet covering the body bag (don't ask me why, because it does nothing) straight to the mortuary. No stops, no chats with coworkers, no chances for someone to just "switch the body". Most of the time, they are transporting the body through the "core" of the hospital instead of the "patient facing" parts. This is a design of most newer hospitals in which the center of the hospital is basically the medical team's workspace that is never seen by patients except during transport and not at all by family members. The core is locked by badge-key access and contains staff and patient transport elevators, medication rooms, break rooms, equipment rooms, tube systems (for sending blood and medications to lab and pharmacy) and rounding rooms (for all sorts of meetings). All these rooms are locked by keycard access and some hospitals even lock their internal elevator systems to avoid patients and family members from using them. This includes the morgue which is locked by keycard. The only people who have access to the morgue are transporters, morticians, medical examiners, nurses, physicians, and cleaners and maintenance workers specifically assigned to care for that area of the hospital. Sorry for all the security talk if that's not relevant to your story, but I hope you find it interesting either way! What I'm trying to say is, someone could steal a badge and access the core of the hospital, but then find out they can't access the morgue.
8. Storage fridges are a thing! Morticians and medical examiners are the only people authorized to access the body after it reach the morgue and some modern hospitals have individual locks on the fridges to keep unauthorized people out. Medical examiners will perform autopsies and donation services will harvest tissues and organs in the morgue. Is is all done pretty quickly, usually within the first 24 hours. I've seen eye harvesting before and it literally takes 15 minutes. Super fast. Other organs can take longer and (of course) some organs can only be harvested immediately before or after death (such as the heart). That process is a bit more complex and super rare. Autopsies are also usually pretty fast (1-2 hours) and done all in one sitting (so the body is never just lying out unattended in the morgue.) Results from an autopsy (final reports and lab work) can take days to weeks however. But we don't keep the body during that time, we just contact the family once the report is available. Typically families want to claim the body as soon as possible after death, so we don't keep bodies longer than a day most of the time. How long a hospital we keep an unclaimed body varies from state to state and country to country, but most of the time not longer than a week and my hospital is only 48 hours. Unclaimed bodies are offered to the state for research and then cremated or buried (depending upon local laws) if rejected.
9. Whether the body is claimed by the family's chosen mortuary or given to the county mortuary after being left unclaimed, the mortuary will pick up the body from the hospital and transport it back to their facilities. Some mortuaries are funeral homes with very low security, while others are more sophisticated. Regardless, they perform the embalming and cremating process.
10. Funerals typically take place about a week after death and I think we all know how those work.
Fluids after death
The only question I think I didn't cover was how much dead bodies bleed: the answer is they don't. Pretty much as soon as the heart stops beating you stop bleeding unless there is a really big open wound through with the blood is "falling". Even then, it sort of depends upon gravity and the site of the wound. For example, if someone had a gunshot wound through their abdomen, that wound would pretty much stop bleeding within a few minutes after the heart stopped beating, but when I remove arterial lines from a patient's wrist (which are super special IV's that monitor a patient's blood pressure continuously), those can bleed even an hour or two after death, because it is basically a hole in the patient's blood vessel (artery). If there are no open wounds, the patient won't bleed, and if their are open wounds, the blood flow will be very slow and easy to stop after death, because their is nothing moving the blood.
More commonly, after death, people will release their stomach, bowel, and urinary contents. All those sphincters (esophageal, anal, and urinary sphincter) relax, so patient will pee, poop, and regurgitate. Although, the vomiting thing I will mostly only notice when I turn the patient onto their side in order to clean them or put them in a body bag. I always put an absorbent pad underneath their face the first time I move them to catch any stomach contents that may spill out of their mouth. Sorry if that's a disturbing imaging. Depending on what caused the death, patients might also have a LOT of edema (which is basically water trapped inside their tissues, think when your feet swell up after sitting for too long). If the edema is bad enough, it can actually leak through the skin after death and make the patient's skin very thin and fragile (like wet phyllo dough). In that case, the outer most layer of skin can actually peel off and release all that trapped water. This only happens in very advanced chronic diseases like alcoholic cirrhosis (don't drink everyday kids!).
If you have anymore questions or something was unclear, let me know! Happy writing!