Sunday, August 26, 2007


Working in a hospital I have come to realize that there are very few things that a person can actually control in their lives. In particular, their death (beyond something like suicide) is almost definitely out of the patient's own hands.

I was surprised.

We had a patient who had an extensive family history of brain aneurysms in all male family members at or before age 60. This was a well-educated man who decided to make the most of his time. He retired at 55, took his wife and their life savings and bought an RV. This happy couple spent the next 9 years RVing all over the US. They spent time in the places that they wanted to be and enjoyed every minute.

One morning he had a terrible headache and collapsed. His CT showed a huge aneurysm had ruptured and there was blood all through his brain. There would be no chance at a meaningful recovery. This man and his wife had discussed things previously, and he wanted to donate his organs (if possible). The family had decided to take him off of life support, allow him to die in peace, and then allow LIFENET to harvest kidneys and liver (these are what can be harvested AFTER a patient's heart has stopped).

This is where I come in.

This was my patient. The OR and side room were open and waiting. I, along with the chaplain, Palliative Care MD (who is my new hero) and his family, would take him to the side room in the OR. Once there we gave him both pain and sedation meds, (although he was already unconscious and unresponsive) and removed his breathing tube. The chaplain and one of his sons said a prayer. The family then had Toby Keith music turned on, sat around the patient's bedside and started telling stories. The stories were the "good ones" that get told at family get togethers. They laughed, joked with each other and held his hands. When he died it was completely peaceful. I was lucky to be there.

After the family left the room we wheeled him into the OR and the recovery team were able to harvest both kidneys and his liver. The Special Forces Medic got a great anatomy lesson that night. (I got to stay and watch as well).

After all the violence that I see in my day to day work life, this was a beautiful thing.


Blogger ERnursey said...

being part of that is very powerful. I have been priveleged to do that three times and I'll remember each one of those patients and their families forever. I still get a christmas card from the first family every year without fail.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Lisa said...

What a great way to go....for him and for his family.

12:20 AM  
Anonymous nurse mary said...

Amen to that.

1:44 PM  
Blogger NocturnalRN said...

Cool you got to watch

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Shelley said...

I'm a new nurse in the SICU, and had a patient that at one point might have been eligible for LIFEBANC, but after we did everything we do (tons of Levo, epi, etc) his organs were shot. Your patient is the antithesis of mine, and I'm glad that there's stories like yours.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Angry Nurse said...

That my friends is the story of a good life and a good death!

May we all be so lucky to have the foresight, courage of conviction and support of family that this man had!

2:22 AM  
Anonymous Cindy said...

What a great experience you must have had. I have been privileged to be with several people as they slipped the surly bonds of earth and met their maker. Each experience is terribly moving. I try very hard to make time, if I know my pt is passing and has no family member there, to sit and hold their hand and tell them its ok to go and that they are not alone. Ive even sung to a few. I feel very honored to be there at this important time. Compassion is part of our job and if you've lost compassion for your patients then its time to get out of the profession.

11:09 PM  

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