Working in medical settings for going on over 10 years now has certainly molded the way I see things. I have seen death in its most devastating fashions, and even in its most peaceful. Most people hearing a dead body was in a room, may u-turn and opt out of the viewing. Me on the other hand would be the person, most likely to ask if anyone needs a helping hand in moving it.
As I talked before on my previous entry, I began training and working for a local hospital around 2004. I started in skilled nursing, which put me in an old folks home. I remember my heart beating rather quickly when I was told my first resident had passed away. They were my responsiblity. Along with this, I quickly learned the procedure of "tending to the dead". Post mortem bath, fix them up to look as natural as possible, so the family could come to say goodbye. When that first patient of mine passed, the flash backs of unnatural gruesome deaths from my childhood swiftly washed over my thoughts, and I admit, I was a bit nervous.
Algor Mortis: This guy is the one I've had the pleasure of hanging out with the most. Being a hospital, or even a home, he always shows. Many think that a mortuary or coroner swiftly swoops you up when you die, but this is far from the truth. Sometimes this procedure can take hours. (I will go into that by the end of this) As the blood flow stops, temperatures decrease. The body goes to an ambient temperature, then cold. The beautiful depth and black of the eyes began to fade into a pearlescent white.
This is Algor. Hello Algor.
Livor Mortis: Now Livor is someone I've probably had the least dealings with, but believe it or not, he has come to visit occasionally. Especially when someone is hanging onto their last breath for quite sometime. Death can come slow in the hospital world, no thanks to life sustaining drugs and equipment. On those rare occasions I have witnessed, "keep grandpa alive until Johnny from Istanbul gets here". Livor is known as the lazy brother. He just manages to settle and nestle into the lower portions of your body and extremities. He is the pooling and stagnation of blood, that has no where to go. You will notice this in red to purple fingers, legs, feet and buttocks. He isn't kind to our looks. I have seen him even turn a pretty face into strange muted purple tones. This is where my thoughts of zombies and grotesqueness kick in. Lividity kinda bothers me. He can really make a human body take on another persona.
This is Livor. And a hello to you, Livor.
Rigor Mortis: Boy where to start? This brother. The prankster. Rigor is defined as, "the stiffening of the body, the depletion of adenosine triposhpate in the muscle fibers." My run in's with Rigor have always been unwelcome, although after falling for his pranks more than once, I have learned to avoid this through simple techniques; A towel roll under the chin, keeping the body flat, arms to the side, etc. He is usually the last one to the party. 6 hours or so after Death makes his first appearance, Rigor comes to stir things up. You'd think, "6 hours? how can she know of 6 hours? She's worked in hospitals, no one dead stays in a hospital for 6+ hours." Contraire mon frère!!! You would be surprised. People's customs often leave a family member in their beds for hours on end. And even on occasion when the family has left, the on call mortuary is slammed and their arrival times can be delay. So yes, Mr. Smith who just died? He could be your roommate for the next 8 hours.
This is Rigor. Say hello Rigor. Hello!
Mrs. Rodriguez was a colorful lady. She spent her time on my hospital floor for months. She spoke little to no English, but her and I seemed to hit it off well. As with most of my patients she appreciated the fact I did my patient care unrushed, for the most part. I had no problem taking the extra few minutes to talk, or to make sure you had your tooth brush and such. My job, you have to understand, was fast in nature.
Being a nursing aide, I had days where it was solely my responsibility to do vital signs, pass trays and bathe in excess of up to 30+ patients a day. Most days weren't this way, but there were certainly days that were JUST LIKE THAT. The floor Mrs. Rodriguez and I met on was especially busy. I worked on a Med-Surg floor where we had patients from fairly long term, to isolation, to 51/50 holds, to pediatrics, to ETOH (ethanol alcohol withdrawls), to surgical prep, to...well....you name it. My floor was the place to be if you had something major going on. Parked right next to the ICU, we had no shortage of excitement.
One afternoon an overly helpful dietician brought in a huge plate of food and insisted opening everything for her, despite her protesting the meal. Mrs. Rodriguez waved her hands and repeated herself till she was blue in the face "No! no, no, no, gracias, nooooo" I witnessed her reach over her bed rail, grab a trash can, and toss an entire plate of hot lasagna into the trash all the while smiling. Nothing kept her from smiling and no language barrier could block out a good sense of humor between two comedians. I laughed so hard. It's as if she found her state amusing and no one else was allowed in on her joke, except me.
One thing loomed over our comedy, and that was the fact she was dying. There were no if, ands, or buts about it. Mrs. Rodriguez had made her decision. No more tests, no more huge meals, no more needles, no more prodding.....just let her be. Anytime someone would come in and try to persuade her one way or the other, family or staff, her demeanor would change from happy-go-lucky to stern. Her wishes were granted.
It was apparent she was a woman of strong faith. Although I do not consider myself a religious person, I am undoubtedly spiritual. She clung tightly to her rosary and prayed often, and on occasion I bowed my head and prayed with her.
Her passing was so peaceful. And I felt happy for her, it's what she wanted. She still bore the smile she gave me all morning. The phone calls began. I went about brushing her hair, washing her face and propping her up beautifully, still wearing her natural smile. She actually looked very pretty in her state. Natural. Its as if she were peacefully sleeping. This is the death state I loved the most. The content one. Unlike most deaths where the light goes out, I felt as if she still lingered in the room, possibly cracking jokes with me and rolling our eyes at the stiff doctors who marched in and out. I felt as if she had left me a gift, a thank you.
Family began to pour in. We couldnt find enough chairs to accomodate her large family. I thought to myself how lucky we were that her roomate had left only a day or two prior. We brought in tables of water, coffee and snacks. People sat around and laughed. Its apparent she was loved. This went on over three-fourths of my 12 hour shift. People would come, people would go. I was actually shocked by how many people came. While many cried, many laughed. It was apparent that her beautiful sense of humor was passed down to the many children that came after her. Laughter was a big part of their family and I felt blessed to be in the middle of it. One lady who introduced herself as a grandchild of hers, shook my hand and thanked me. She told me her grandmother truly appreciated the discretion and time I took with her. She knew my shift and she knew her bad days vs. not so good days by when I would be at work. I choked up at this. I hadn't realize how much my time impacted her in her last months in my hospital room.
As the late afternoon came, people began to leave. Mexicans and their culture are accustomed to long vigils for their dead. I just had never seen one take place for so long from with a hosptial room. She received hugs, kisses, and prayers as each left. She still sat as beautifully as ever, smiling, only looking slight pallor than the earlier morning hours. I gathered a collegue of mine who had just came on shift to assist me in prepping Mrs. Rodriguez and doing the painstaking task of putting her in a body bag, for her final send off. The nurse made the appropriate calls to have her picked up.
Behind me was the bathroom were another nurse took the bathing bucket and wash cloths. I grabbed the remote to lay the bed down and began to lower the head of her bed. The nurse still in the restroom asked me a question about how long she had been deceased now and I turned to answer her. I told her about the large group of family who came to say good bye. Hearing the bed stop drew my attention back to my task. As I turned, I was startled to see the Mrs. Rodriguez was still sitting straight up, despite her bed being flat. I was horrified!I stopped talking mid-sentence and I just stood and stared at her still smiling. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How did I make this mistake of letting her sit up for so long? Apparently my sudden silence prompted my help to stop what she was doing in the restroom and she came to ask me what I was doing and she stopped mid-sentence and stood beside me. We both just stood and stared. Unbelievable. Damnit Rigor.
My partner gushed,"Oh my God!" and I couldn't think of anything more appropriate to do than laugh. She turned and squared with me alittle, "How can you laugh at that?" I shook my head and all I could say was "Holy shit". I knew her personality. She was funny in life, and funny in death. Her present situation couldn't have been more appropriate. I went from giggling, to slightly hysterical. I could only respond at how funny she was, that it would figure that it would be her to throw me for a loop despite my years of experience with death and rigor mortis, she really showed me. Pretty soon we were both laughing. Once we had it out of our system, we fetched the head nurse to figure out how we were going to get Mrs. Rodriguez into her body bag. THAT is awhole 'nother blog entry.
Honestly, I had never seen such a thing before or since. You can't make this stuff up. Thank you Mrs. Rodriguez for your humor, and allowing your beautiful spirit to show me not to take life so seriously. She was yet another factor that changed my view on death, forever.
I Corinthians 15:51-58 "Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall all indeed rise again: but we shall not all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible. And we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption: and this mortal must put on immortality. And when this mortal hath put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable: always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."