One of the more bizarre tasks we have responsibility for in our hospital is to pronounce people dead.

Apparently, nurses used to be able to do this, but now it can only be done by a doctor. So at night, whenever someone dies in the hospital, we have to go do an exam and actually pronounce them dead. It is strange for lots of reasons. By the time we are called, there is no question as to whether or not they are dead. They have usually been dead for a while.

Dead bodies are so, so still. Putting my stethoscope to their chest and hearing this void of sound is unlike anything else I do.

That said, just like anything else, you get used to it. I can go into a room and quickly do the necessary exam, write my brief note, and continue on with the rest of my responsibilities, without thinking too much about it.

Last night, though, I was called to do a pronouncement in the ICU. On my way to the nurses station to figure out where I was supposed to do, I passed a room with the door slightly ajar, and realized that one of my attendings was in the room, sitting next to a bed. I asked him what he was doing here.
"I'm here with my mom," he replied.
"How is she doing?"
"She passed away."
Gulp. "I'm so sorry."

I head to the nurses station just to make sure, but I realized that I was called up to pronounce her. The mother of one of my attendings. She suddenly wasn't just another body I had to pronounce. She was a mother. She was a grandmother. I went back into her room, and did my brief exam, but looking more intently at her quiet face. Her still hands.

It was good to be reminded that every time I do this, I need to remember the son, the daughter, the sister, the father who grieves their loss.


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