Sunday, June 27, 2010

calling all angels

Yesterday ended up being not so great. I worked with the family of my patient to help them realize that the future of their loved one included an extended period of time on the ventilator, 24 hour dialysis, and a poor prognosis anyway. They immediately decided he wouldn't have wanted that, and told us to withdraw. I went into the quiet room before they came back, and took away anything extra. The compression devices on his legs, the bair hugger keeping his temperature normal, turned off all the IV pumps except for his fentanyl, versed, and pressors. I arranged the spaghetti of tubes on his bed so they couldn't be easily seen. I turned up the rates of his sedation and pain meds, and I cut the restraints off of his wrists. I dressed him in a clean gown, put a clean blanket on him, and lowered the bed. I pulled the chairs up next to him and put the siderail down so the family could sit beside him if they wanted. I cleaned the rest of the room, put a tray of snacks and juice off to the side. I turned off the bedside monitor so they couldn't see his wave forms on the screen.

They came and told me they were ready. The respiratory therapist and I cut the tape that held his ET tube in place, and removed it. Then, I watched my hand turn off the IV pump running his levophed. They asked me repeatedly how long it would take? I told them we simply couldn't predict, but in our opinion not very long. A couple hours perhaps. I told his son, you can hold his hand if you want. He didn't.

I went out and sat at the nurses station, to watch the monitor. Without the levo, his blood pressure was 48/32 within 5 minutes. His O2 was 80% for a while, before falling to 70%, then 60%. His heart fought valiantly, before becoming brady, then asystole, then the purkinje fibers throwing their last struggling beats in at about 20-30 beats per minute. The daughter and granddaughter put on the light. I went in, and they said "he's gone isn't he?" They were sobbing. I explained that the doctor couldn't call it yet, because there was still a small amount of leftover electrical activity in his heart, but yes, he was gone. The daughter hugged me, and they left. There was no one in there. So I took his hand in mine. No one had touched him while he died, and I hummed "calling all angels" while his heart finally succumbed. And then I left.

Not only did I perform his post-mortem care after that, but a young woman down the way lost her battle with lymphoma earlier that morning. She passed around 8am, and the family didn't leave her side until about 1pm. I helped with her post-mortem care too. The nurse told me that she had suffered immensely, crying, whimpering, never comfortable, always in great pain. Her mother had held her in her arms every day and night. I looked at the face of this deceased woman, 31 years old... in death, her face had relaxed into a smile, yes a SMILE, of relief. I had never seen such a smile before.

The following song always reminds me of nursing, and how we have the honored but very overlooked position in society of helping people through death... either to wellness, or to the great beyond.

a man is placed upon the steps, a baby cries
and high above the church bells start to ring
and as the heaviness the body oh the heaviness settles in
somewhere you can hear a mother sing

then it's one foot then the other as you step out onto the road
how much weight? how much weight?
then it's how long? and how far?
and how many times before it's too late?

calling all angels
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don't leave me alone
calling all angels
calling all angels
we're cryin' and we're hurtin'
and we're not sure why...

and every day you gaze upon the sunset
with such love and intensity
it's almost...it's almost as if
if you could only crack the code
then you'd finally understand what this all means

but if you could...do you think you would
trade in all the pain and suffering?
ah, but then you'd miss
the beauty of the light upon this earth
and the sweetness of the leaving

calling all angels
calling all angels
walk me through this one
don't leave me alone
callin' all angels
callin' all angels
we're tryin'
we're hopin'
we're hurtin'
we're lovin'
we're cryin'
we're callin'
'cause we're not sure how this goes

1 comment:

Crazed Mom said...

I have never heard of this song. Do you know who sang it?

Thank you for being kind enough to hold the man's hand while he died.

I lost one of my sons at the age of 10 months and when he died he was on my chest, listening to my heart beat. His death was extremely peaceful and I knew instantaneously his earthly pain was over.