Although emotionally taxing a task, performing final patient appointments is a very essential part of nursing. Not only do I consider it a sacred task, but the last act of kindness a nurse can ever do for their patient!
You may have nursed the patient for a long time and watched it decline until it breathed its last. Or they may have died suddenly. It does not matter how the patient dies but as a nurse you are likely to encounter a situation at some point in your career where you will have to fulfill the last offices on a patient. This task may not be for everyone as it can be emotionally taxing. However, if you found yourself with a dead body on your ward or unit, here are some tips on how to achieve the last offices on your patient:
1) Confirm first with the doctors that they are indeed dead. (well, strange things happen!)
2) Remove all attached monitoring equipment.
3) If they have loved ones close they have left behind ask if they would like to spend some time with them before you start working on the body. They may still spend a little more time later but it shows that you respect their feelings at this difficult time.
4) They say the sense of hearing is the last to go, so when a patient dies, remember what you are saying around them, especially shortly after they have pass. There is much to be said for respecting the dead!
5) As ridiculous as it sounds, you can talk to your patient during this act of love and kindness. You’re not crazy and it doesn’t matter if they can still hear you or not. You do it because you are a respectful and caring nurse!
6) If you are not comfortable with this task or you are not sure how it is to be done, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a colleague. The same rule of not exceeding your level of expertise still applies even on a dead body!
7) Clean the body, seal orifices like the nose, anus etc. with cotton wool or whatever is appropriate to use.
8) When all is cleaned, the body should be placed in a body bag and labeled according to your hospital guidelines before being transported to the mortuary.
9) Treat the dead body the way you would like to be treated – with respect! Remember that this is a mother, father, uncle or God who forbids a child.