Requiescat In Pace

When a patient takes his/her last breath, it jolts you to rethink your own mortality.

On the weekend, one of my long-term care patients passed away on my night shift. The team had known he was not doing well, and we progressed to palliative care pretty quickly. I was not expecting the worse because the patient was alert, albeit, had some difficulty breathing. Essentially he was developing congestive heart failure, and fluid was filling up in his lungs as a result of it. His family was at the bedside, and I went in periodically to assess his level of comfort. I had a standing order to give morphine every 4 hours, and I was able to give my patient a dose before he settled and went to sleep.

I was called into the room a little before 5 am, and the family member told me that his breathing was slowing down. I went into the room, and I saw no respiratory effort. At that point, my heart started racing, and I asculatated for lung and heart sounds — I heard nothing. He was unresponsive to my voice and touch. His pupils were fixed and dilated, and there was no central pulse. I called the nurse on call, and after reconfirming my findings we called the doctor. Two nurses can confirm death, but it is the doctor who must declare and pronounce it.

With permission from the family, we cleansed the body and clasped his hands together. Rigor mortis sets in after 6 hours, so we positioned the limbs straight and tied gauze around the toes. The body was strangely still warm while we prepared for the viewing. I said a few last words while I covered the body with a white sheet. I offered the family some coffee and tea, and gave them a private room.

In the end, my patient died peacefully and in his sleep. As a nurse, I am proud that I was able to offer him some comfort during his last hours of life. He lived to be a healthy nonagenarian, an impressive feat.

3 Responses to “Requiescat In Pace”
  1. Jay says:

    Touching Clo ❤ You will never forget this experience.

  2. Caroline says:

    Powerful story. I kept on thinking about this during my night shift this week. I don’t think I’d be able to handle it as well as you did. Stay strong!

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