Friday, December 14, 2007
This is all gossip and hearsay, so of course I am determined to repeat it:
Apparently, after a patient passed away in the unit the other day there was quite an uproar. As they were being taken to the morgue by the transporter, a maintenance worker stated that he saw one of the arms of the patient move.
He said something about it to the transporter, who just kind of shrugged him off and continued with their delivery. The worker was really bothered by seeing this though, so he then reported it to the charge nurse. In the meantime, the body was delivered to the morgue and placed in storage (I don't know if there's a technical term for a morgue refrigerator).
The charge nurse immediately got on the phone with the morgue, who confirmed that they had the patient and was told that they hadn't observed any movement, but couldn't say for sure that the patient had expired.
And this is how one of our poor junior nurses got ordered to go into the morgue and confirm on the cardiac monitor that the patient was in fact, dead.
First of all, I don't know who pronounced this particular patient, but it was someone who had been on a ventilator for days and was in multi-organ system failure. The odds of them having the strength to move anything other than it just being an act of gravity are extremely small. Usually, although the monitor screen is turned off in the patient's actual room so as not to distress family members, staff members are watching and recording heart rate, respirations, blood pressures, and oxygenation on a main screen behind the desk. While I can't speak for my colleagues, when a patient expires in the unit, they are examined for any signs of life. Despite all the technology, there's no substitue for listening for a heartbeat, feeling for a pulse, and feeling for any air movement from even the slightest of breaths.
Then, there is also often a lag time from pronouncing the patient to transporting them to the morgue to give the family plenty of time to come in to the hospital or time alone with the patient.
Finally, this particular hospital has a bizarre thing that they put over the stretcher (almost like a covered cake plate) so that people passing by in the hallway/elevator don't know that they are next to a dead body. I don't know how anyone could have seen any arm movement, unless it was before the patient was even moved over to the stretcher.
However, this story brings me to two conclusions: 1) The transporter should have stopped and checked the patient. If, by any slight chance the patient wasn't dead, it certainly didn't help to put them in a refrigerator. 2) The maintenance worker should be commended for not only having the courage to say something to the transporter, but also for bringing it to the charge nurse's attention.
So, I don't think we put anyone on ice prematurely. However, in the small off chance that this could happen, maybe morgue drawers should have bells in them, not unlike quaint Victorian coffins.
For an interesting read on urban legends and being buried alive, check out this snopes.com article.